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CHIM (DAVID SEYMOUR)
Chim by Elliot Erwitt
© 1996 Elliott Erwitt;
courtesy of the International Center of Photography

Chim (David Seymour), was born in Warsaw, Poland. He studied graphic arts in Leipzig, and turned to photography in 1933 while continuing his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. He 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, Chim co-founded an international photojournalists' cooperative with his friends Robert Capa, Henri-Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and William Vandivert. His 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 to Chim, wars were an enormous crime against children. Fluent in several languages, with deep affinities for many countries and peoples, Chim 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.


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CHRONOLOGY


November 20, 1911

Born Dawid Szymin (pronounced "shim-in") in Warsaw, Poland. His father, Benjamin Szymin, is a well-known publisher of Hebrew and Yiddish books.


1914

Emigrates from Warsaw to Odessa via Minsk with his family at the beginning of World War I.


1919

Returns to Warsaw.


1929

Graduates from the Jewish Gymnasium Ascolah in Warsaw.


1929-31

Attends the Staatliche Akademie für Graphische Künste und Buchgewerbe in Leipzig, Germany, and studies the new color printing technology.


1932

Arrives in Paris to study chemistry and physics at the Sorbonne.


Becomes the Paris representative for Ruan, a Warsaw press and publicity photography firm. Meets Henri Cartier-Bresson.


1933

Borrows a camera from David Rappaport, a family friend, who owns Rap, a picture agency in Paris. Produces prints and stamps them "CHIM," a shortened phonetic French version of his last name. Photographs Paris at night. Publishes pictures in Vu, Regards, and La Vie Ouvrière.


1934

Becomes a staff photographer for Regards magazine, with which he is closely associated until 1939. Meets Robert Capa.


1935

Photographs the International Writers Congress for the Defense of Culture in Paris and the Spanish Civil War as a special correspondent for Regards.


1936

In Paris, photographs strikes and factory occupations (MayJune) and events leading up to the formation of Léon Blum's Front Populaire government (June). In Spain, photographs on board the Republican battleship Jaime I, which the fascist forces had purportedly sunk.


1936-39

Becomes known for internationally published coverage of the Spanish Civil War and other important political events in Europe and North Africa. His photographs are distributed through Maria Eisner's photo agency, Alliance, and then later through PIX in New York.


1937

Photographs Picasso in front of his antiwar painting Guernica at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et des Techniques de la Vie Moderne in Paris.


1938

Selects ten of his photographs for reproduction in the first volume of S. L. Shneiderman's War in Spain; the book is published by Seymour's father.


1939

Photographs Spanish Republicans fleeing to France (February). Documents the journey of 1,000 Loyalist Spanish war refugees on the S.S. Sinai to Mexico for Paris Match. Accepts an invitation by President Lázaro Cárdenas to photograph in Mexico; publishes Mexico images in Life and Paris Match. Arrives in New York in September just as World War II begins in Europe. Establishes Leco Photographic Service with Berlin photographer Leo Cohn in New York.


1940

Sister Eileen Shneiderman, her husband, and their daughter arrive in New York.


1942

Trains in military intelligence at Camp Ritchie in Maryland after being drafted into the U.S. Army but is not permitted to serve in a combat position due to poor eyesight. Becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States and adopts a new name, David Robert Seymour. Serves as an interpreter of reconnaissance photographs in England. Receives a promotion to sergeant in the U.S. Army.


1944

Receives a promotion to second lieutenant. Travels to France just after D-Day and before the liberation of Paris. Receives the Bronze Star.


1945

Receives a promotion to lieutenant. Transports confidential government negatives to the Pentagon. Returns to New York and works at Leco after discharge from active military duty.


1946

Meets Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, photography curators at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


1947

Begins photographing again on assignment for This Week magazine with a story entitled We Went Back, which revisits many of the most famous sites of World War II: Omaha Beach, Reims, and the concentration camps of Dachau. Cofounds the cooperative Magnum Photos, Inc., with friends Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, and William Vandivert. Photographs French nuclear energy facilities with David Schoenbrun of CBS. Publishes images in Saturday Evening Post and Holiday.


1948

Produces "Chim's Children," a photographic documentation of child victims of the war commissioned by the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), traveling through Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, and Poland over a twelve-week period. Learns that his parents were killed by the Nazis in Otwock, Poland, in 1942. Publishes pictures of postwar children in Life magazine. Photographs the new nation of Israel, democracy in West Germany, the United Nations in its new headquarters in Paris, the first meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Begins photographing in color. Befriends Carlo Levi.


1949

Publishes forty-seven photographs in The Children of Europe, published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Produces more than 2,500 pictures of the Vatican and contributes images to The Vatican: Behind the Scenes in the Holy City. Participates in the exhibition Quelques Images de Hongrie in Paris. Collaborates with Robert Capa on a project about Paris for Holiday.


1950

Meets photographer Erich Lessing, who also joins Magnum.


1950-55

Travels widely throughout Europe (with bases in Rome and Paris) and in Israel, on assignment for major European and American publications. Photographs extensively in Italy, especially in small villages, documenting Catholic rituals, literacy classes, and the pigeon "Arturo, Citizen of Piazza San Marco." Photographs actors Ingrid Bergman, Gina Lollobrigida, Joan Collins, Ava Gardner, and Audrey Hepburn, as well as Arturo Toscanini and Bernard Berenson.


1952

Participates in the exhibition Weltausstellung der Photographie in Lucerne, Switzerland.


1954

While on assignment to photograph the queen of Greece, witnesses and documents the worst earthquake in Greek history. Also photographs monasteries in Meteores.


1954-56

Serves as president of Magnum after Capa's death in Indochina.


1955

Participates in The Family of Man exhibition, organized by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


1956

Moves into an apartment, rather than a hotel, in Rome. Publishes photographs in Newsweek and House and Garden. Writes first piece, "The Legends of Rome," for House and Garden. Photographs an atomic installation in England. Participates in Magnum's first joint exhibition at Photokina in Cologne. Travels to Egypt via Cyprus to cover the war in the Suez.


November 10, 1956

With the French photographer Jean Roy (Paris Match), Chim is killed by an Egyptian sniper four days after the Suez armistice while on his way to El Quantara to cover an exchange of wounded prisoners of war.


(Bio courtesy of the International Center of Photography)
May 2022
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