The Image that Changed Fashion

Before we get started I wanted to explain the purpose of this post. As an art student I am encouraged to research many artists and the artists that influenced those artists. In the process of this past semester in particular I have discovered many interesting details about known artists and new (but technically old) artists that I would like to share with you all. As a blog primarily about clothing, style and fashion I know this may seem irrelevant but for me whatever my interests are of the moment generally influence the way I dress myself in one way or another thus making all of this relevant once again. So if no one minds I would like to make this a continuing series of posts about artists who are inspiring me.

Moving on to the title of this post, that's right people, this picture from the pages of Harper's Bazaar above was the image that truly changed the future of fashion photography. Until this fashion was a staged affair, using mannequin-like models in a musty studio. Here, on the models face, her chin stretched resolutely forward, was a genuine, breathless grin, matched in ebullience by the triumphant billowing of the cape behind her. 

"This was never done before.
This was the first big innovation I introduced to Harper's Bazaar." 

-Carmel Snow, Editor at Harper's Bazaar 1933

The photographer of this legendary photo is someone you have probably never heard of before, Hungarian born Martin Munkasci. In this image and many more as you will see below Munkacsi captured the essence of the sporty, open-minded American girl whom a generation of young women, influenced by the strong minded movie stars Katharine Hepburn and Jean Harlow, felt connected to. This image conveyed an electrifying surge of impulsiveness and informality uncommon in fashion photography at the time. It's as though at any moment the girl might run out of the picture and into the reality of our own lives. Essentially that is exactly what this image did. It made fashion into something that everyone could obtain, not just the elite. 

At this moment you may be feeling like you have seen these images a million times in a million different magazines but in fact all of these were shot in the 1930s and 1940s. There is a high-tuned awareness to the linear composition in these images; the model in relationship to the shadows and structural components around her leads the viewer's eye across and around the entire space of the image. Below is the first of Munkacsi's images of a nude model that was published in Harper's Bazaar. I myself feel like I have seen this image replicated a countless number of times with a model laying in a massive field of luscious green grass (Steven Meisel, Vogue Italia 2004). 

Munkacsi inspired the likes of great photographers like Richard Avedon who was quoted recalling, "His women [strode] parallel to the sea, unconcerned with his camera, freed by his dream of them, leaping straight-kneed across my bed." The legendary photographer was just 11 years old when he ripped the page from Harper's Bazaar and stuck it to the ceiling where it "grew yellow and buckled from home-made paste."

Munkacsi also inspired the great Henri Cartier-Bresson who stated, "I must say that it is that very photograph [Boys running into the surf] which was for me the spark that set fire to made me realize that photography could reach eternity through the moment....I said 'Damn it,' I took my camera and went out into the street."

With such an impressive list of photographer's Munkacsi has influenced why is it that most of us have never heard of him before? When he arrived in America he was one of the most renowned photojournalists in Europe but his fame and fortune reached a pinnacle in New York and then lead to a pitiful decline that included bereavement, divorce and illness that left him loitering in the corridors of Harper's in hope's of an assignment. When he died in 1963 at age 67 his ex-wife found his apartment almost completely empty spare a tin of half-eaten spaghetti in the refrigerator with the fork still in it. 

It is always so sad to hear about how such great artists will spend their entire lives in poverty and then get popular after their death but somehow for me it was even sadder to read about how successful Munkacsi was at the beginning of his career and then ended in such a demise. When you look at his photographs you can see how much they have influenced not only modern street photography (in regards to photos taken on the street, not street style photography) and modern fashion photography. He is a man who's vision changed the vision of an industry and generation's to come yet ended in such a downfall. I'm not sure what we can take away from Munkacsi's personal life but we can certainly still take away a great deal from his professional one. His images are something that have inspired a new linear sense of seeing within myself and a genuine surge of impulsive freedom in high-production fashion shoots. What do you take away from Munkacsi? 

Martin Munkacsi trying to get a shot of a diver.