Martin Munkacsi – Written Biography

Martin Munkacsi – Written Biography

Martin Munkacsi was born in Kolozsvar, Austro-Hungary on may 18th, 1896. He died July 13th, 1963 in New York.

Munkacsi was a newspaper writer and photographer based in Hungary, and specialising in sports, but also worked on many other subjects. Munkacsi’s innovation was to take sports photographs, but to make them meticulously composed, requiring a great artistic and technical skill.
Munkacsi’s big break into photography happened in the most unusual circumstances. Two men were having a fight, one of which died from his injuries. Munkacsi was photographing the incident, and the photos that he happened to take of the fight were used as evidence against the accused killer. This gave Munkacsi a considerable notoriety.
This unusual publicity put Munkacsi in the limelight, and was what helped him to get a job in Berlin in 1928, working for the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung. This is where his first ever photograph was published, a race car driving through a puddle.
More than just a sports photographer, Munkacsi travelled to many different places and coutries, including: Turkey, Sicily, Egypt, London, New York and even Liberia.
Finding new and unusual viewpoints for photographs enthralled him, so Munkacsi tried many different ways to get a different perspective on his subject(s). The most attractive one to him was flying. Munkacsi has taken air to air photographs of a women’s flying school, photographs from a Zeppelin, and even one taken of a boat, where all the passengers are on the decks waving.
On March 21st, 1933, he photographed the ‘Day of Potsdam’, where the old president of Germany handed over power of the country to Adolf Hitler. He even was able to photography Adolf Hitler’s inner circle, which was ironic because he himself was of Jewish faith.
In 1934, the Nazi’s made the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung a national publication, fired its Jewish editor Kurt Korff, and replaced all of its photography with propaganda pictures of German troops.
Munkacsi left Germany for New York, when apon arriving he was offered a job for a substantial $100,000 with Harper’s Bazaar, a top fashion magazine, which was a huge amount of money for a photographer at that time. He often left the studio and went off on his own accord, to shoot on places such as beaches, farms, fields and even an airport. He was even one of the first photographers to have nude photographs published in a very mainstream magazine.
Famous people that have been photographed by Munkacsi include Katharine Hepburn, Leslie Howard, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Jane Russell, Louis Armstrong and even Fred Astaire.
Munkacsi’s death was surrounded in poverty and controversy. Several universities and museums refused to accept his archives, and they were scattered all around the world.



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4 responses to “Martin Munkacsi – Written Biography

  1. Pingback: Liberating Lens Course – Fashion in Motion

  2. You know, almost every piece online about Munkacsi ends with these lines: “Munkacsi’s death was surrounded in poverty and controversy. Several universities and museums refused to accept his archives, and they were scattered all around the world.”

    Do you have any idea *what* the controversy was? What was so bad that museums refused his archives? I ask because he was a friend of the family, of grandparents who have since passed. Photos of him are in our family album and I’m curious as to what could have been so awful.


    • I had to keep it brief on this post, but I had also found this:

      “His fame and fortune reached a pinnacle in New York, but a pitiful decline that included bereavement, divorce and illness left him loitering in the corridors at Harper’s , in the hope of an assignment, finally pawning the last of his cameras. When he died in 1963, aged 67, his ex-wife found his apartment virtually empty, only a half-eaten tin of spaghetti in the refrigerator, the fork still in it.”


      • Yeah, I saw that as well. But I’m thinking there must have been something else. Divorce and poverty don’t seem to be enough to keep someone of his stature at one time from being acknowledged. Unless the original writer of “poverty and controversy. Several universities and museums refused to accept his archives, and they were scattered all around the world.” embellished what might actually have been simply having slipped into obscurity at that point.

        I may look into newspaper archives because the only controversy I can think of would be a Nazi connection beyond what is written. I love a good mystery…

        Personally, I think the sadness of dying in obscurity is better copy than controversy. But that could be my romantic brain. Thanks. Have a great new year.

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