"All great photographs today are snapshots." (Martin Munkácsi)
Martin Munkácsi, A shot at all costs! Long Island, 1935 (Self-Portrait)
Martin Munkácsi (1896-1963), born in Kolozsvar, Austro-Hungary, was a photographer who worked in Germany (1928–34) and, since 1934, in the United States. Lipot Mermelstein, was an artisan who changed his name to Munkácsi to avoid anti-semitic discrimination. Self-taught, Martin worked since 1912 as a sports reporter in Budapest, and, in the early 1920s, started to publish his first photos. At the time, sports action photography could only be done in bright light outdoors. His innovation was to make sports pictures as meticulously composed action photographs, which required much artistic and technical skills.
Munkácsi's break-through was to happen upon a fatal crime scene, 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 Illustrierte 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. Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung was a weekly magazine with a circulation of 2 million copies. It was Germany's first magazine where stories were told by photos primarily. Muncácsi there worked alongside with the ingenious Erich Salomon who was the first who called himself a "Bildjournalist".
Martin Munkácsi, Strand, 1930
More than just sports and fashion, Munkácsi photographed Berliners, rich and poor, in all their activities. He traveled to Turkey, Sicily, Egypt, London, New York, and 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 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.
In 1932, the young Henri Cartier-Bresson saw the Munkácsi photograph Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika (below), 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."
Martin Munkácsi, Boys running into the surf at Lake Tanganyika , 1930
On March 21, 1933, he photographed the fateful "Day of Potsdam" (below), where Chancellor Adolf Hitler and President Paul von Hindenburg heralded the fatal alliance between German fascism and Prussian military. The "Day of Potsdam" is a symbol for the disastrous relationship between National Socialism and Prussianism and lead to the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave the Nazis full legislative powers, even allowing deviations from the constitution. On assignment for the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, he also photographed Hitler's inner circle - ironically because he was a Jew and a foreigner.
Martin Munkácsi, “Tag von Potsdam” – The German Army marches out. Potsdam , March 21, 1933
In 1934, the Nazis nationalized the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, fired its Jewish editor-in-chief, Kurt Korff, and replaced its innovative photography with propaganda. Munkácsi then left for New York, where he signed on, for a substantial $100.000, with Harper's Bazaar, becoming the best paid photographer of the world. He was no longer just a pioneer, he was a star too. A virtuoso bohemian from Europe.
Innovatively, he often left the studio to shoot outdoors, on the beach, on farms and fields, at an airport. His portraits include Katharine Hepburn, Jean Harlow, Jane Russell, and Louis Armstrong. 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." Munkacsi's art quickly became everybody's. So, without the insurance of a significant artistic reputation, being a photographer celebrity, building a house on Long Island (1939), having a shiny lifestyle that includes regular horse rides in Central Park with his first daughter Alice - he was already right on the way to a cold and unfair end.
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 2007, the International Center of Photography mounted an exhibit of Munkácsi's photography titled, Martin Munkácsi: Think While You Shoot. In 2009, the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York City staged a joint exhibit of photographs by Edward Steichen and Munkácsi.
Martin Munkacsi, Dog market, England, 1932
"My trick—is there one? Well, perhaps a bitter youth with many changes of occupation, with the necessity of trying everything from poetry to berry picking. These difficult early years probably constitute the sources of my modest photographic activity." (Martin Munkácsi)
Martin Munkacsi, At 100 Kilometers - Driver in Hungarian Tourist Trophy Race, 1929
"To see in a thousandth of a second what indifferent people come close to without noticing—that is the principle of photographic reportage. And in the thousandth of a second that follows, to take the photo of what one has seen—that is the practical side of reportage." (Martin Munkácsi)
Martin Munkácsi, Untitled, 1930s
Martin Munkácsi, Beduin, Egypt, 1929
Martin Munkácsi, The Goalkeeper, 1928
Martin Munkácsi,Untitled, c. 1928
Martin Muncácsi, Leni Riefenstahl, 1931
Martin Munkacsi, Leni Riefenstahl, 1931
Martin Munkácsi, Tennis player Gottfried Freiherr von Cramm and his wife Elisabeth, 1930
Martin Munkácsi, Frida Kahlo und Diego Rivera, Mexiko, 1934
Martin Munkácsi, The Munich flying school. Boxing as fitness training, 1928
Martin Munkácsi, Katharine Hepburn, 1930s
Martin Munkácsi, Martin Munkácsi in Zeppelin Lz 127, 1932
Martin Munkácsi, Parasols, 1928
Martin Munkácsi, The Happy Family – The Poor Relative, 1955