May 31, 2018

RESIDENTS: Martin Munkacsi

Continuing our series on notable Tudor City residents, meet Martin Munkacsi, one of the most renowned photojournalists of his time, and tenant of No. 5. Here is his life, in bullet points:

Munkacsi and family
✱ Born in Hungary, 1896. Moves to Berlin in 1928 and gets a job photographing street life for a German picture magazine. His informal, freewheeling style seems very modern, and he quickly makes a name for himself.

✱ Abandons Berlin for New York in 1934 and reinvents himself as a fashion photographer. Reinvents the genre by taking his models outdoors and setting them in motion. Carmel Snow, editor of Harper's Bazaar, admires his work and puts him under exclusive contract. He's soon earning $100,000 per year, an immense sum during the Depression. "A picture isn't worth a thousand words," he quips, "it's worth a thousand dollars."

✱ Around 1940, he leases a showy triplex penthouse in No. 5, which becomes his studio.

Above, the artist and two ladies in his Windsor Tower studio, photographed from the second floor of the triplex. Below, after some minor rearrangement of furniture, there's room for a game of ping pong.

However, Munkacsi's success is short-lived. Following a heart attack in 1943, he starts into a slow decline. His much-imitated style is no longer so revolutionary, and he has difficulty transitioning from black-and-white to color photography. Turns to freelancing after being dropped by Harper's Bazaar. Moves out of Tudor City in 1952 and is eventually reduced to selling his cameras to make ends meet. Suffers another heart attack in 1963 and dies, near-destitute and long-forgotten.

Much admired by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Richard Avedon, Munkacsi today is regarded as a pivotal figure in photojournalism. Below, three memorable examples of his kinetic aesthetic.
From left to right, "Jumping a Puddle" (1934), "Having Fun at Breakfast" (1933), and Fred Astaire (1936).

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