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Silver Eagle: 1934

Silver Eagle: 1934

New York circa 1934. "Margaret Bourke-White with her camera atop a stainless steel eagle projecting from the sixty-first floor of the Chrysler Building, overlooking Manhattan and the Hudson River." Gelatin silver print from a photograph by Bourke-White's darkroom assistant Oscar Graubner. Her backdrop is Rockefeller Center's RCA Building, completed in 1933. View full size.


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Graflex RB auto tele

It is a 4x5 Graflex RB auto , which was optimIzed for a 8-12" lens. A great camera, not too unwieldy, I have 3 similar ones (RB Super-Ds) and handhold them regularly. One of the few 4x5 SLRs, and probably the most reliable and easy to service, even today they go for $500-1600 depending on model and condition.

It rings a bell

And it sounds like Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Ridley Scott. I wonder where Mr. Scott and his set designers got the inspiration for the scene of the final fight in the 1982 Blade Runner movie.

Amazing photographer

I can't imagine Margaret Bourke-White doing something like this. Wow.

I've been in some crazy situations to get a shot, and I'll never forget standing on a helicopter's strut about 400 feet up. I absolutely froze, even though I had a nylon harness on. And when I say "froze," I mean I couldn't even move my thumb!

Oddly enough, when the pilot went a bit further up, my vertigo vanished and all was well (until it came back on the way back down). But Bourke-White couldn't do that, could she? And she didn't have a harness on, either.

What a pro!!! I need to go back and read some more about this gutsy photographer.

And All That Trash

It wasn't just the power plants and heating systems, most apartment buildings had incinerators to add to the polution.

Looking for a Sherlock

Enough speculation. Would one of you in the city just go up there and check on the access. Doors, stairs and or someone in maintenance and report back to us. Thanks.

Camera prop

The more you study the scene the more it seems the big, unwieldy Graflex camera is a prop. A more intelligent camera choice would have been a Speed Graphic or a Rolleiflex — which I bet her assistant used.

[If only you had been there to guide her. According to contemporary accounts, Bourke-White used the Graflex as well as an Ansco view camera for her Chrysler Building work. - Dave]

There is a photo owned by Time that shows her multi-item camera gear that includes several press types and a Rolleiflex. Most were probably acquired post her Chrysler era I admit but indicating my input would not have been necessary.

Bad air

My parents have told me that when the wind around Chicago and Northwest Indiana (steel country) didn't blow, the sky turned orange and the snow quickly got sooty. My dad has the COPD to prove it, too.

That's her terrace

Margaret Bourke-White had an apartment looking out over the gargoyles. She was hired to promote the building during its construction and decided to stay.

[After finding out she couldn't live there, she leased a studio on the 61st floor as her office, paying $387 a month in rent. -Dave]

Watch the Birdie

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Non-Purple Haze

"Is that just the way it was back then?"

Yes, most cities were coal powered, and the air was bad.

Smoky skyline

I don't think I've ever seen a vintage photo of a big city's skyline that didn't look smokey. Is that just the way it was back then?

I am "seeing" this photo for the first time

Of course I've seen this photograph many times, but until now, I never realized that MBW has emerged from a hatch, having climbed stairs or a ladder inside the eagle.

All these years, I imagined her crawling along the top of the eagle to reach that position.

It's still pretty gutsy, and not something I would want to do.


Yikes -- I tend to get airsick on a thick carpet. At least she is firmly projecting from a compartment in the structure, but getting there must have been a bit tricky, even with access from the inside

Gutsy woman.

Slippery shiny steel and no safety rope. One strong gust of wind around the building and it's see if you can fly time. This photo gives me stomach butterflies.

With my Acrophobia

I have a hard time even looking at this one. Yikes!

But it is interesting to me in that for almost 40 years my father worked behind one of those upper windows in the RCA Building facing the Chrysler Building.

Eight Eagles

Fabricated in the sheet-metal shops on the Chrysler Building's 65th and 67th floors, from Enduro-KA2 and Rezistal Stainless Steel.

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