Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika

with 11 comments

“Think while you shoot”, wrote Martin Munkacsi in Harper’s Bazaar. From his early years as a sports photographer for the Hungarian newspaper Az Est to his formative years as a news photographer in German weeklies, to his revolutionary career as a fashion photographer in New York, Munkacsi practiced this cerebral approach to grace and glamour. He revolutionized his art with a combination of extreme angles, unusual situations, and surprising locations. His photo of Lucile Brokaw running on the beach featured in Harper’s Bazaar (December 1933) and his photos of Leni Riefenstahl on ski-slopes, which appeared in Vanity Fair on January 1934, cemented his reputation as the “kinetic man” of photography. When he signed $100,000 contract (equivalent to $1.5 million today) with Bazaar, he is one of the highest paid photographers in 1940.

His work with what was then a new invention—the 35mm camera—inspired some of the great names in photo history, including Richard Avedon and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The above photo, of Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika , was credited by Cartier-Bresson as “the only photograph to have influenced me.” On seeing these boys in a moment of freedom, spontaneity and joy, Cartier-Bresson commented: “In 1932, I saw a photograph by Martin Munkácsi of three black children running into the sea and I must say that it is that very photograph which was for me the spark that set fire to fireworks. I suddenly understood that photography can fix eternity in a moment …. [it] made me suddenly realise that photography could reach eternity through the moment. I couldn’t believe such a thing could be caught with the camera. I said damn it, I took my camera and went out into the street.'”

But Cartier-Bresson who abhorred darkroom manipulations – but whose iconic photo was ironically one of only two images he cropped – probably didn’t know the story behind Munkacsi’s photo. Not only how much the framing was altered in the darkroom was unclear, but where it was taken was also uncertain. Munkácsi supposedly photographed the scene at Lake Tanganyika in 1930, while on assignment in Africa for German magazine BIZ. However, his assignment was to document Liberia – 2,000 miles away from Lake Tanganyika. To add to the confusion, the above picture was sometimes simply titled ‘Liberia, 1930′. The photograph did not fit in with Munkácsi’s other images of Liberia, and was not published until the following year, in the French arts magazine Arts et Métiers Graphiques.

Brokaw on the left and Riefenstahl on the right epitomized Munckacsi Method

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 4, 2010 at 10:50 pm

11 Responses

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  1. Actually, Munckacsi scorned the 35mm camera, which was just becoming popular. He used large format cameras for all his work, which makes the photos all the more remarkable considering the action he captured.

    Jamie

    November 22, 2010 at 2:17 am

  2. [...] das er über ein Foto von Martin Munkácsi machte. Nicht dieses Foto, er sprach über Three Boys At Lake Tanganyika, dessen Geschichte übrigens auch gar nicht mal so unspannend ist. Wirklich fasziniert hat mich [...]

    Martin Munkácsi | Jeriko

    February 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm

  3. [...] upon a reproduction of Martin Munkácsi‘s “Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika.” The picture showed a group of African boys frolicking in the water. If the photographer had pressed the shutter [...]

  4. [...] when he stumbled upon a reproduction of MartinMunkácsi‘s “Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika.” The picture showed a group of African boys frolicking in the water. If the photographer had pressed the shutter [...]

  5. [...] upon a reproduction of Martin Munkácsi‘s “Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika.” The picture showed a group of African boys frolicking in the water. If the photographer had pressed the shutter [...]

  6. [...] Cartier-Bresson originally dabbled in surrealism, when he saw Martin Munkacsi’s 3 Boys at Lake Tanganyika, his perspective on the possibilities of photography was changed forever and made him take his [...]

  7. [...] and rather regular-minded sort of person. Only recently, looking at Martin Munkási‘s picture Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika and having pointed out to me the fact that there’s a stray arm from some presumed fourth [...]

    Lake Malawi | twisted rib

    January 14, 2012 at 10:15 pm

  8. [...] Ms. Bassman already seemed like a photographer from another age – that of de Meyers, Munkacsis, and Steichens. Her ethereal black-and-white photographs, where fashion photography was elevated [...]

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    Ashely

    July 30, 2013 at 1:51 pm

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