Martin Munkacsi was born Marton Mermelstein in 1896. As a teenager in Budapest, he wrote gossip, news and poems for local newspapers and magazines, and to illustrate them picked up a camera. By the mid-1920s he had become a prominent photographer in Hungary.
He favored scenes of daily life. His pictures defied convention by incorporating a sense of motion, dramatic camera angles, and elements of whimsy into his images. His sports photographs epitomized his special gift for action and movement.
In 1928 he moved to Berlin, where the opportunities were better, and traveled the world on assignment.
Munkacsi was a stylist, and he made catchy images the only way he knew how, in a modernist mode, which, being an opportunistic form, could serve any master. Shortly after that he left for the United States. On a trip to New York near the end of 1933 he was hired by Carmel Snow for a Harper’s Bazaar assignment. His picture of the socialite model Lucile Brokaw running down a Long Island beach in a bathing suit and cape introduced a whole new vocabulary of vigor and action to American fashion.
But he passed on to fashion photographers like Richard Avedon a way of packaging beauty. In Harper’s Bazaar, Avedon paid one of the few tributes when Munkacsi died. He “brought a taste for happiness and honesty and a love of women to what was, before him, a joyless, loveless, lying art,” Avedon wrote. “Today the world of what is called fashion is peopled with Munkacsi’s babies, his heirs.”
Munkacsi left an indelible mark on the pages of Bazaar, He brought his models out of the studio and into the world, capturing their spontaneous energy. Munkacsi died in 1963.