Martin Munkacsi, the father of fashion photography, was born in Hungary in 1896 under the last name Mermelstein or Marmostein. Their new name was solely Hungarian, because his family was trying to drop their Jewish identity. He worked in Berlin, Germany as well as traveled the world before coming to NY in the 1930s. He expanded his professional career in 1923 when he was taking pictures of a soccer game for Az Est. After the game, he continued to take photographs of the street dwellers. He saw on the news that there was an old man accused of murdering one of the Kaiser’s soldiers and Munkacsi, after developing his film, had proof that the soldier provoked the old man. Susan Morgan wrote, “Munkacsi’s candid shot revealed the soldier’s brandished gun and the old man reaching for a knife in self-defense,” (Morgan, 2). This photograph began Munkacsi’s stardom; he was, “promoted from sports photographer to photojournalist,” (Morgan, 2). overnight. His catch phrase ultimately became, “think while you shoot” which is exactly how he began his career, not planning ahead.
I chose the photograph, of the socialite Lucile because it is a photograph which is considered the beginning of true fashion photography. Around 1933, when this photograph was taken, Munkacsi was working for Harper Bazaar under Carmel Snow. She was looking for a fresh look for the magazine and was shown Munkacsi’s work. She was immediately attracted to him beginning with him being a fellow Hungarian. Even though he had never taken a fashion photograph, she hired him for this shoot. Prior to Snow, he was working for a Jewish run press, as a Jew, in Germany. He had covered the historic Day of Potsdam in 1933, capturing both Hitler, top hat in hand, and the new Minister of Propaganda, Goebbels. Snow’s job offer not only led to the creation of modern fashion photography but also allowed Munkacsi a one way out of Germany to New York.
When he took this photograph, he did not speak much english. He spent his shoot gesturing towards his model to have her run towards him, an original pose. From that point forward, action photography was a part of fashion photography. No longer would props be used to simulate, models would move and and be in action while their photo was taken. This was a revolutionary idea that enhanced the quality of photographs. While I was thinking about the movement, I was thinking about Munkacsi’s personal movement. He was living in a time of great antisemitism and had just moved from his home in Germany to NY. He himself had made a life-changing, and ultimately life-saving decision.
Morgan, Susan. “Martin Muncacsi.” An Aperature Monograph, n.d. Web.
Other Photos by Munkacsi:
Your choice of complementary photos to the one you chose as a photo icon is excellent. You might have reflected, albeit briefly, on the differences and similarities in composition. Given Munkacsi’s interest in human movement captured on film and frozen in time, In the case of Lucile Brokaw, the movement is accentuated by the plain background, also the situation with Fred Astaire. However, with the soccer player we gain a sense of movement because he is captured before he falls. This contrasts with the nude where the movement is largely aesthetic, our eye moving up her back to reach her hat, following the shape and curve of the body.
You do an excellent job contextualizing Munkaci’s historical era and provide good sources for what you write. Carmel Snow, however, was Irish, not Hungarian. However, you’re right to indicate that moving to the US involved entering a world of high-paid fashion photography where many of the key figures were not Jewish, unlike Berlin. Finally, your reflection on Munkacsi’s own personal movement–his migration to the U.S.–is very thoughtful.