Eighty one years ago, the famous photo of “Lunch Atop A Skyscraper” was taken. Today, September 20, 2013, you can see the documentary Men At Lunch (2012) at the Quad Cinema in New York and gain a deeper understanding of that famous photo.
In Men At Lunch, the filmmaker, Seán Ó Cualáin, brings the audience to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Iron Mountain and Ireland. The eleven men in the famous “Lunch Atop A Skyscraper” photo taken on September 20, 1932 were Irish ironworkers who built the Rockefeller Centre building. Rockefeller Centre has an archives of black books that they actually call The Black Books. These books contain photos of the Rockefeller Centre from the beginning stages of construction throughout the years, and includes the famous photo.
In Iron Mountain, Ó Cualáin takes us to the Corbis photo collection, one of the largest photo collections in the world. Here, the original glass negative of the “Lunch Atop A Skyscraper” photo finds it’s home. As it’s made of glass, the negative has broken over the years, but it’s noted that it’s not uncommon for glass negatives to become broken. It still serves the purpose of providing the images held within it’s frames. The curator in the film examines the negative for audiences and explains how it is indeed the original. It’s the most valuable print the collection houses and the most requested.
Now, the idea where the documentary Men At Lunch originated was in a pub in Shanaglish, County Galway. The director and his brother Eamonn were in Ireland at the pub and noticed the “Lunch Atop A Skyscraper” photo on the wall with a note attached to it naming two of the men in the photo. Until this time, none of the men, nor the photographer, were identified. With the help of family photos, it can be seen that two of the men are immigrant brothers from Ireland: Sonny Glynn and Mattie O’Shaugnessy.
The documentary also reveals that because ironwork was a very dangerous job, the men building the skyscrapers were paid $1.50 an hour, which was a good pay for the time. Planners would estimate that for every ten stories of building, one ironworker would lose their life. That came out to about two percent of the work force losing their lives a year with another two percent of the work force becoming disabled for life.
If you want to learn more about the history of the iconic image–the who, what, where, when and why–you can see the documentary Men At Lunch in New York at the Quad Cinema starting September 20. If you’re in Los Angeles, the film will be available for you to view on October 4 at the Laemmle Music Hall.