11 construction workers 840 feet above Manhattan, on the 69th floor of what is now the GE Building, just casually eating lunch and having a smoke. Seemingly oblivious to the immense danger that surrounds them. Oh, and I failed to mention, they’re on a single thin steel beam that we can only assume is solidly braced on the sides, just out of the frame. The picture has come to be known as “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper, 1932.” When three photographers, Charles C. Ebbets, Thomas Kelley, and William Leftwich, all present during the shoot, even though which of these men created the shot is unknown today, put this picture together for a promotional campaign for what was at the time an enormous skyscraper, they could have never known it would turn out to be one of the most seen and reproduced photographs of the 20th century.
For someone like myself who has a colossal fear of heights, just looking at the picture makes me uneasy. Though due to its black-and-white image and the film quality in those days I can’t say for certain, it appears to be either clouds or a fog surrounding them. This just makes me think of moisture on the beam, thus making it all the more dangerous. Of course, I’m also prone to think of things such as, “What if one of them dropped their keys?” Yet not one of these men appears shaken or nervous in any way. In fact, several are even turned slightly, or they are letting their legs dangle off the side as if they were sitting on a park bench in the middle of summer.
It’s hard to believe there are people this brave. Of course, that list is long and also includes crane operators, firemen, policemen, soldiers, and many more. But, sticking with this picture for the moment, just looking at their faces, their demeanor, and their casual, nonchalant mannerisms, it seems unreal to think anyone would have that kind of “nerves of steel” (pun intended).
This brings me to my point, which is perspective. These men are taking a prepared picture, sure. But we have to admit, they also work to build these skyscrapers as well. It’s noted that some of these very same men also helped build Rockefeller Center in New York. So, this is their life and livelihood. Although they know the ever-present danger exists, they don’t spend their time processing this thought the way most of us would. Perspective. I read once that a crane operator said it was the best job there is. He said he was at peace inside the crane high above the rest of the world. He didn’t see the danger or feel the fear, instead, he saw the beauty of a tremendous sky view that changes as the day progresses into a tapestry of color. Though it sounds incredible, I prefer to see it from the ground level. Then again, that’s why I’d never be given that job.
The other thing this historic photograph makes me realize is just how much we each see things from our own perspective. What ignites intolerable fear in one person, produces incredible excitement in another. Adrenaline works in strange ways, depending on the person and the event taking place. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of these men pictured admitted that filing his taxes was scarier, and thus, they wouldn’t want to be an accountant. I guess one could say, either profession could have dire consequences if not performed properly.
So, as we look at this admittedly incredible photograph that invokes so much emotion and thought, we can recognize that our fears in life are often in the “eyes of the beholder.” We can feel comfort in knowing that although we may have different trepidations, uncertainties, and stressors that weigh on us, there are those out there who look at these things as merely routine challenges to deal with, in order to achieve the overall objectives. One person’s headache is another person’s passion.
Knowing this helps us not to feel alone, either in our dilemmas or in thinking help is not available. Simply because neither is true. If you have a problem, for the most part, anyway (barring certain conditions), you can rest assured there is someone out there who knows how to fix it or can help you take care of it appropriately. That should be comforting to know. I know it makes my wife happy.
Therefore, the next time you encounter a particularly fearful or stressful situation, remember these steel workers, and view your concern from a different perspective. Or find someone else who does, and let them help you. It sure beats falling.
To comment, and see more, visit theviewfrommysection.com.