Tuesday, February 03, 2009

the higher, the more awful, and the more sublime

I saw this on a blog this morning and thought about the famous photo of construction workers casually eating lunch on a girder way above the city.

{Click to view full size. This image has been made into a poster and is available from many sources.}

Wikipedia has a stub page on this picture: Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper. It says the photo was made in 1932 by Charles Clyde Ebbets during the construction of the RCA building in Rockefeller Center, NYC. The girder is 69th floors up from the street.

I believe this is another shot from the set Ebbets took at the time, but I'm not sure:

The New York Public Library has a collection of photos by Lewis Hine taken during construction of the Empire State Building, 1930-31. The collection is described here: The Construction of the Empire State Building, 1930-1931 and the photos are given here: Photographs of the Empire State Building under construction

Here are a a few shots from that shoot:

Icarus, high up on Empire Stat... Digital ID: 79854. New York Public Library

Connecting the beams Digital ID: 79852. New York Public Library

Worker attaching a bolt onto a... Digital ID: 79857. New York Public Library

Two workers inspecting steel Digital ID: 79860. New York Public Library

A worker hanging on to two ste... Digital ID: 79839. New York Public Library

Worker on Empire State buildin... Digital ID: 79874. New York Public Library

Workers on Empire State buildi... Digital ID: 79872. New York Public Library

Workers on Empire State buildi... Digital ID: 79876. New York Public Library

All this brings to mind what Byron wrote in his journal January 28, 1821:
Why, at the very height of desire and human pleasure, worldly, social, amorous, ambitious, or even avaricious, - does there mingle a certain sense of doubt and sorrow - a fear of what's to come - a doubt of what is - a retrospect to the past, leading to a prognostication of the future? (The best of Prophets of the future is the Past.) Why is this, or these? - I know not, except that on a pinnacle we are most susceptible of giddiness, and that we never fear falling except from a precipice - the higher, the more awful, and the more sublime; and, therefore, I am not sure that Fear is not a pleasurable sensation; at least Hope is; and what Hope is there without a deep leaven of Fear? and what sensation is so delightful as Hope? and, if it were not for Hope, where would the Future be? - in hell. It is useless to say where the Present is, for most of us know; and as for the Past, what predominates in memory? — Hope baffled. Ergo, in all human affairs, it is Hope - Hope - Hope. I allow sixteen minutes, though I never counted them, to any given or supposed possession. From whatever place we commence, we know where it all must end. And yet, what good is there in knowing it? It does not make men better or wiser. During the greatest horrors of the greatest plagues, (Athens and Florence, for example - see Thucydides and Machiavelli,) men were more cruel and profligate than ever. It is all a mystery. I feel most things, but I know nothing except
Note: It's my understanding that I've observed all copyright requirements in reproducing photos in this post; if I'm wrong I'll remove the offending image(s).

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