Chim: The Photography of David Seymour (1911–1956)

September 29, 2007February 24, 2008

Download the Chim PodTour! Join exhibition curator Robert Flynn Johnson in an in-depth look at Chim's life and work.
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Chim, like Robert Capa, was a Parisian from Montparnasse. He had the intelligence of a chess player; with the air of a math teacher he applied his vast curiosity and culture to a great number of subjects… He accepted the servitudes of his profession and turned out to be brave in situations that seemed utterly foreign to his personality. Chim picked up his camera the way a doctor takes his stethoscope out of his bag, applying his diagnosis to the condition of the heart. His own was vulnerable.
—Henri Cartier-Bresson

David Seymour (1911–1956) was known from his earliest days as a photographer by his moniker “Chim” because his Polish birth name, Syzmin, was so hard to pronounce. He is among the great masters of twentieth-century European photojournalism. He is best known as the founder, along with Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and George Rodger, of Magnum, the famous cooperative of photojournalism, which celebrates its sixtieth anniversary this year. Born in Poland, Seymour went to Paris in the early 1930s, where he took up photography as his preferred medium and befriended the great photographers Cartier-Bresson and Capa. The photographs in this retrospective—over seventy works—span his career, from his early years in France to photographs taken in Egypt in 1956 during the Suez crisis, when his life and that of photographer Jean Roy were cut short by Egyptian machine gun fire.

First and foremost, Chim was an unapologetic humanist. As beautiful as his photographs are, their aesthetic value is secondary to the insight into the lives of the people and their circumstances that he captured on film. Highlights include the demonstrations of French workers in the 1930s, the torment of the Spanish civil war, the melancholy aftermath of the Second World War, the plight of refugee children throughout Europe, and scenes of struggle and resolve in countries such as Greece, Poland, Italy, Israel, and Egypt.

In addition, Chim’s engaging and cosmopolitan character allowed him to approach some of the leading personalities of the day to be the subject of his camera. Included in this exhibition are compelling portraits of Pablo Picasso, Peggy Guggenheim, Bernard Berenson, Arturo Toscanini, Ingrid Bergman, Kirk Douglas, and Audrey Hepburn. It is a great pleasure to announce that through the generosity of Chim’s nephew, Ben Shneiderman, thirty-six photographs in this exhibition have been given to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

See the photographs on display in the exhibition online »

Credit Line
Chim: The Photography of David Seymour (1911–1956) is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Thirty-six of the photographs in the exhibition are gifts to the Fine Arts Museums from Chim’s nephew, Ben Shneiderman.