David Seymour was born 1911 in Warsaw, Poland as David Syzmin. He studied graphic arts in Leipzig, and turned to photography in 1933 while continuing his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. He later adopted the working name “CHIM” based on the pronunciation of his birth name.
Seymour covered many important political events for leading magazines including Life, beginning with the Spanish Civil War. At the outbreak of World War II he made his way to New York. During the war he served as a photo-interpreter with the U.S. Air Force in Europe. In 1947, he co-founded the international photojournalists’ cooperative Magnum Photoswith his friends Robert Capa, Henri-Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, and William Vandivert.
Seymour’s postwar series of photographs of the physically and spiritually maimed children of Europe attracted worldwide attention, was published in a book by UNESCO, and became part of the posthumous exhibit, “CHIM’s Children.” The sympathetic and compassionate portraits of these small victims of war led a friend to note that for Seymour, wars were an enormous crime against children. Fluent in several languages, with deep affinities for many countries and peoples, Seymour was truly international. Among his many photographic essays are outstanding portraits of Bernard Berenson and Arturo Toscanini.
Chim was killed by an Egyptian machine-gunner in 1956, four days after the Armistice at Suez.
CHIM, by Henri Cartier-Bresson:
“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. We had been friends since 1933. The precision of his critical spirit had rapidly become indispensible to those around him. Photography to him was a pawn that he moved all over the chessboard of his intelligence. One of his pawns kept in reserve was his culinary delicacy, which he handled with gentle authority, always ordering good wines and elaborate dishes. He had one area of personal elegance: his black silk ties.
His perspicacity, his very delicacy, often gave him a sad, even disabused smile, which brightened if one humored him. He gave and demanded much human warmth. He had so many friends everywhere; he was a born godfather. When I went to announce his death to his friend Dave Schoenbrun, he said to me in the conversation that followed: “You and I know each other very little. And yet CHIM was a friend of both of us. He was a man of secret compartments and forgot to make them communicate.
CHIM picked up his camera the way a doctor takes his stethescope out of his bag, applying his diagnosis to the condition of the heart. His own was vulnerable.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1996
1949 Children of Europe, Unesco Paris
1950The Vatican, with a text by Ann Carnahan, London
1957 Little Ones – Japan
1966 Paragraphic David Seymour (Chim), Anna Favora, David Seymour, Grossman Publishers
1969 Israel/The Reality – People, Places, Events in Memorable Photographs, edited by Cornell Capa,
Micha Bar-am, Karl Katz & Arnold Saks, New York, NY USA: The World Publishing Company in association with the Jewish Museum
1974 David Seymour (Chim), 1911-1956, ICP, Studio Vista London
1976 Front Populaire, photographs by Robert Capa and David Seymour-Chim Paris
1980 Les Grandes Photos de la Guerre d’Espagne, Text by Georges Soria, photographs by Robert Capa, David Seymour-Chim and Gerda Taro, Paris, France: Editions Jannink
1996 Chim The Photographs of David Seymour, Inge Bondi, H Cartier-Bresson, foreword C. Capa, Bulfinch
1999 Close Enough: Photography by David Seymour (Chim), by Terry Gips
College Park, MD USA: University of Maryland, Art Gallery
2010 Mexican Suitcase, C. Young, Steidl