Commercial photographer, fencer, portrait artist and a friend of celebrities – a lot can be said about Nickolas Muray, but certainly not that he led an uninteresting life. Who was he and what did his path to fame look like?
Nickolas Muray Self-Portrait
‘It is not enough to have talent. You also have to be Hungarian’, is what Robert Capa, a renowned war photographer from Budapest allegedly once said. Both he and Nickolas Muray belonged to a group of Hungarian creators born at the cusp of the XIX and XX century, who decided to emigrate and build their careers in the West.
Muray – or rather Miklós Mandl – was born on the 15th of February 1892 to a Jewish family from Szeged. He took interest in photography and graphic design as a teenager. Finishing the Budapest Graphic Arts School and then the National Technical School in Berlin, he obtained both practical and technological knowledge of photography, lithography and colour filters among others. Nevertheless, he decided to find his destiny across the ocean, not in Europe. In August of 1913 he set his foot in America. Lucky enough – he very quickly found work in the field he was interested in. Taking photos in his own studio by day and completing additional darkroom tasks by night, the Hungarian restlessly worked to make a name for himself in New York’s photography world.
Throughout the entire 20’, Muray could not complain about a lack of clientele. He portrayed painters and poets, actors and writers, dancers and politicians, often creating friendships, or even romantic relationships along the way. The most famous of his lovers (and his soulmate) was Frida Kahlo, who he met in 1931. Their romance went on for a decade, later transforming into a life-long friendship. Yet, what remained from the romance were the many vivid portraits of the artist – vivid, as the 30’ initiated a new, ‘colourful’ era in the Hungarian photographer’s career.
At the brink of decades, when the world was facing the repercussions of the Great Crisis, Nickolas Muray reminisced on his colourful photography and decided to use it as his weapon against his competitors. The technique which he mastered was called the color carbro process, and it enabled the Hungarian to become one of the most desired names in the American commercial field. His works were published in the most relevant magazines: The New York Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Ladies Homes Journal, Vanity Fair and McCall’s – they were even exhibited in art galleries. When watching the tasty, spectacular, culinary still natures created by Muray almost a decade ago, there’s no doubt why, to this day, he’s being called one of the pioneers of modern food photography.
It’s important to add that the Hungarian creator remained both a photographer and an active fencer throughout his entire life (in 1928 and in 1932, he took part in the Olympics, wearing the colours of the American team). He passed away suddenly, in 1965, during one of his duels.