24 Hours and 43 Women—The Story Behind the Iconic Gigli Photograph

In a span of less than 24 hours, American photographer Ormond Gigli planned, staged, and shot arguably the most important photograph of his career. In 1960, the pictured brownstone stood across from Gigli’s studio on 58th Street in Manhattan, defining the artist’s view of the surrounding urban landscape. When Gigli discovered it was set to be demolished in two days time, he became determined to preserve it in the only way he knew how: through his photography. Gigli and his studio manager sprung into action, reaching out to contacts and friends, and coordinating with the demolition supervisor, who required them to include his wife, and to shoot during the crew’s lunch break the next day. Thanks to Gigli’s reputation from his work at Time and Life magazines, he was able to fill the shot with 43 women—friends, models, the demolition supervisor’s wife, and even his own wife—all dressed in their finest. He even managed to get a Rolls-Royce to sit on the sidewalk out front. Gigli perched on the fire escape across the street, directing everyone via bullhorn, and reminding the women to stay within the frames, fearing that the window ledges might crumble and cause the models to fall to their deaths. Nothing was styled, and little was planned, yet within the hour, the artist had his shot. Gigli not only succeeded in preserving this image of the now demolished brownstone, but also created an iconic photograph celebrating feminine beauty.

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