Martin Munkácsi (born Kolozsvar,
Austro-Hungary, May 18, 1896, died July 13, 1963 New York, NY) was
an Hungarian photographer who worked in Germany (1928-34) and the
Munkácsi was a newspaper writer and photographer in Hungary,
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.
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 Berlin 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 Dame.
More than just sports and fashion, he photographed Berliners, rich
and poor, in all their activities. He traveled to Turkey, Sicily,
Egypt, London, New York, and famously Liberia, for photo spreads in
the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung.
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 Brazil, where he crosses over a boat whose passengers
wave to the airship above.
On March 21, 1933, he photographed the fateful "Day of Potsdam",
where the aged President Paul von Hindenburg handed Germany over 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.
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 New York, 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 ilustrated with nude photographs in a popular
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.
Berlin's Ullstein Archives and Hamburg's F. C. Gundlach collection
are home to two of the largest collections of Munkácsi's work.
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 Liberia. 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."
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."
BerlinerIllustrierte Zeitung (BIZ), July 21, 1929. Magazine cover.
Boys Running into Surf at Lake, Tanganyika, Liberia, 1930
Summer Camp Near Bad-Kissingen, Germany
Fred Astaire, 1936
Lovely autumn: the last warm rays of sunshine, circa 1929
At 100 Kilometers - Driver in Hungarian Tourist Trophy Race, 1929
Greta Garbo on vacation, ca. 1932
Flight D-LZ 127 'Graf Zeppelin' to Brazil—"Our grand experience:
Encounter with the 'Cap Arcona'", ca. 1932
Opening of Parliament on March 21, 1933, 'Potsdam Day'—"The German
Army marches out," 1933
"Jumping fox terrier," ca. 1930
"At a Berlin vs. Budapest match. Vilmos Kohut, one of the best
Hungarian players," ca. 1928
Fun on the beach—Lunabad, Berlin, 1930
Lucile Brokaw on the Long Island Beach, 1933
Martin Munkacsi, photographing for Harper's Bazaar in Long Island,
taking an angle shot of a diver, 1935
Beduin, Egypt, 1929
Operetta soubrette Rosi Barsony in her entrancing grotesque dance,
Operetta soubrette Rosi Barsony in her entrancing grotesque dance
On the Beach, 1929