Martin Munkácsi (born Kolozsvar, Austro-Hungary, May 18, 1896, died July 13, 1963, New York, NY) was a Hungarian photographer who worked in Germany (1928–34) and the United States.
Life and Works
Munkácsi was a newspaper writer and photographer in
specializing in sports. At the time, sports action photography could only be
done in bright light outdoors. Munkácsi's innovation was to make sports
photographs as meticulously composed action photographs, which required both
artistic and technical skill. Hungary
Munkácsi's legendary big break was to happen upon a fatal brawl, which he photographed. Those photos affected the outcome of the trial of the accused killer, and gave Munkácsi considerable notoriety. That notoriety helped him get a job in
in 1928, for
the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, where his
first published photo was a race car splashing its way through a puddle. He
also worked for the fashion magazine Die
More than just sports and fashion, he photographed Berliners, rich and poor, in all their activities. He traveled to
, Turkey , Sicily , Egypt , London , and famously New
for photo spreads in the Berliner
Illustrierte Zeitung. Liberia
The speed of the modern age and the excitement of new photographic viewpoints enthralled him, especially flying. There are aerial photographs; there are air-to-air photographs of a flying school for women; there are photographs from a Zeppelin, including the ones on his trip to
where he crosses over a boat whose passengers wave to the airship above. Brazil
On March 21, 1933, he photographed the fateful "Day of Potsdam", where the aged President Paul von Hindenburg handed
to Adolf Hitler. On assignment for the Berliner
Illustrirte Zeitung, he photographed Hitler's inner circle, ironically because
he was a Jew and a foreigner. Germany
In 1934, the Nazis nationalized the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, fired its Jewish editor-in-chief, Kurt Korff, and replaced its innovative photography with pictures of German troops.
Munkácsi left for
, where he signed on, for
a substantial $100,000, with Harper's Bazaar, a top fashion magazine.
Innovatively, he often left the studio to shoot outdoors, on the beach, on
farms and fields, at an airport. He produced one of the first articles
illustrated with nude photographs in a popular magazine. New
His portraits include Katharine Hepburn, Leslie Howard, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Jane Russell, Louis Armstrong, and the definitive dance photograph of Fred Astaire.
Munkácsi died in poverty and controversy. Several universities and museums declined to accept his archives, and they were scattered around the world.
In 1932, the young Henri
Cartier-Bresson, at the time an undirected photographer who
catalogued his travels and his friends, saw the Munkácsi photograph Three Boys
at Lake Tanganyika, taken on a beach in
Cartier-Bresson later said, "For me this photograph was the spark that
ignited my enthusiasm. I suddenly realized that, by capturing the moment,
photography was able to achieve eternity. It is the only photograph to have
influenced me. This picture has such intensity, such joie de vivre, such a
sense of wonder that it continues to fascinate me to this day." He
paraphrased this many times during his life, including the quotation, "I
suddenly understood that photography can fix eternity in a moment. It is the
only photo that influenced me. There is such intensity in this image, such
spontaneity, such joie de vivre, such miraculousness, that even today it still
bowls me over." Liberia
Richard Avedon said of Munkácsi, "He brought a taste for happiness and honesty and a love of women to what was, before him, a joyless, loveless, lying art. Today the world of what is called fashion is peopled with Munkácsi's babies, his heirs.... The art of Munkácsi lay in what he wanted life to be, and he wanted it to be splendid. And it was."