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

San Francisco, September 2007—Chim: The Photography of David Seymour (1911–1956) at the de Young Museum in San Francisco includes over seventy photographs spanning Chim’s career from the 1930s to 1956. David Seymour, better known as Chim, captured world events including the rise of Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, and the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. As an unapologetic humanist, Chim’s subjects were often refugee children and scenes of struggle. He moved in film and art circles that led to extraordinary portraits of some of the leading personalities of the 20th century. Chim’s last photographs were taken in Egypt in 1956 during the Suez crisis, when his life was cut short by Egyptian machine gun fire.

Achenbach Curator Emeritus and curator of this retrospective, Robert Flynn Johnson, ranks Chim among the great masters of 20th-century European photography because his photographs are both insightful and beautiful. Johnson’s selection of Chim’s photojournalism images and his celebrity portraits demonstrate Chim’s range and dexterity as a photographer. Highlights in the exhibition include images of French workers demonstrating in the 1930s, the aftermath of World War II, refugee children across Europe, as well as portraits of Pablo Picasso, Peggy Guggenheim, Bernard Berenson, Ingrid Bergman, Kirk Douglas, Richard Avedon, Audrey Hepburn, and Sophia Loren.

Chim is perhaps best known as one of the founders of the famous cooperative of photojournalism, Magnum Photos, which still exists today. According to Magnum Photo historians, “The world’s most prestigious photographic agency was formed by four photographers—Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, and David “Chim” Seymour—who had been very much scarred by the conflict [World War II] and were motivated both by a sense of relief that the world had somehow survived and the curiosity to see what was still there. They created Magnum in 1947 to reflect their independent natures as both people and photographers––the idiosyncratic mix of reporter and artist that continues to define Magnum, emphasizing not only what is seen but also the way one sees it.”

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.