Martin Munkácsi was born in Kolozsvár, Austro-Hungary, on 18 May 1896. A self-taught photographer, he started his career working for a local newspaper, documenting sportsmen in action. His lucky break occurred one night when he came across and photographed a local brawl that would later turn into a large, publicised trial. The photographs got him a job in Berlin in 1928, working as a photojournalist for the magazine, 'Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung'. He was sent all over the world to photograph for the publication and started doing pieces of fashion work, on the side, for the magazine, 'Die Dame'. In 1934, 'Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung' was nationalised by the Nazis and was made to publish propaganda shots of German troops. Depressed, Munkácsi left for New York, where he was offered a sufficient contract with the fashion magazine, 'Harper's Bazaar'.
Munkácsi applied his approach to documenting sport to his fashion photography. He created a completely different style by taking the models out of the studios and into the world. His vibrant and enthusiastic images embraced the speed of the modern era, capturing style in motion. His innovation inspired later photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Norman Parkinson and Richard Avedon.
In 1936, Munkácsi became a full-time staff member at Life magazine, and during the 1940s he was the most sought after photojournalist in the United States. However, by the time that he died in New York City on 13 July 1963, he was out of work and out of favour.