Chim (David Seymour, 1911-1956), Sophia Loren at Home, 1955, printed later. Color digital print. FAMSF, gift of Ben Shneiderman.

The First Half of the 20th Century in David Seymour's Viewfinder

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Chim (David Seymour) and Robert Capa (left) discussing Magnum business, Paris, 1950, © Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Chim (David Seymour, 1911-1956), A child in a residence for disturbed children, Tereska, Poland, Detail, 1948. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Ben Shneiderman to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Chim (David Seymour, 1911-1956), Boy's Reformatory of Albergo dei Poveri, Naples, Italy, 1948. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Ben Shneiderman to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Phillipe Halsman, Chim with Irene and Jane Halsman, 1955, gelatin silver print, 24.1 x19.1 cm, International Center of Photography, Gift of Yvonne Halsman, 1987, 152.1987.

Chim (David Seymour, 1911-1956), Guns in a bathroom, Spain, ca. 1936.


de Young
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco
Chim: The Photography
of David Seymour (1911-1956)

September 29, 2007-February 24, 2008

The photographs of David Seymour, known as Chim, captured world events — 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 portraits of some of the leading personalities of the 20th century. Chim: The Photography of David Seymour (1911-1956) includes over 70 photographs spanning Chim’s career from the 1930s to 1956. 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 portraits of Pablo Picasso, Peggy Guggenheim, Bernard Berenson, Ingrid Bergman, Kirk Douglas, Richard Avedon, Audrey Hepburn, and Sophia Loren.

Chim is best known as one of the founders of the the photojournalism cooperative Magnum Photos, which still exists. 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.”

Born in Warsaw, David Szymin (who changed his name to Seymour in 1942) studied graphic arts in Leipzig, Germany and went to Paris in 1932 to continue studies at the Sorbonne. Despite lack of training, he found a job at Rap picture agency on his arrival, where he befriended Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. By 1934, Szymin was signing his prints "Chim," and had published extensively in Regards, a French weekly with which he was associated until 1939. He became known for photographs of the Popular Front in Paris and the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, on assignment for Paris-Match, Chim documented the journey of 150,000 Spanish loyalists to the exiled Spanish Republican government in Mexico. At the onset of World War II in Europe, he moved to New York, and in 1942 served as an interpreter of reconnaissance photographs for the U.S. military. In 1947, he joined Cartier-Bresson, Capa and George Rodger founding Magnum photo agency, and the next year was commissioned by UNICEF to photograph the war's effect on European children. Children of Europe, his best-known project was wcelebrated when published by LIFE in 1948 and in book form in 1949. Chim accepted portrait and reportage assignments for major international periodicals. Upon Capa's death in 1954 he became president of Magnum. Chim was killed by Egyptian sniper fire while on assignment in the Suez in 1956.

His talent was apparent n his photographs of children, which render painful circumstances without resorting to sentimentality. Chim's intelligence, dedication, and wit set a high standard for photojournalism that has seldom been surpassed.

Chim: The Photography of David Seymour (1911–1956) is organized by 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.

Chim (David Seymour, 1911-1956), cover Regards, August 6, 1936, Photogravure, 36.2 x 27.1 x.2 cm, International Center of Photography, Museum Purchase 2007.

David Seymour, Pablo Picasso and detail of Guernica, 1937, Gelatin silver print (printed 1982), 11-15/16 x 8", © David Seymour / Estate of Pablo Picasso, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

David Seymour (Chim), photographer, American, 1911-1956, Audrey Hepburn rehearsing for Funny Face, Paris 1956, © 1998 David Seymour Estate.

Elliot Erwitt, American, born 1928, Portrait of David Seymour, ca. 1954, Silver gelatin print, 10 x 8 inches, The Photography Collections University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Gift of Ben Shneiderman, Copyright © David "Chim" Seymour / Magnum Photos.

Chim (David Seymour, 1911-1956, Bernard Berenson, Rome, detail, 1955, printed later. Gelatin silver print. FAMSF, gift of Ben Shneiderman.


David Seymour (Chim), photographer, American, 1911-1956, Audrey Hepburn in a wedding dress with cigarette on the set of Funny Face, Paris, 1956, 1956, gelatin silver print (printed later), 254 x 203 mm, Lent by Ben Shneiderman L07.88.17.