(From Wikipedia, the
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 United States.
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
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
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 magazine.
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."