January 15, 2013
by David Seymour
This retrospective exhibition follows the development of Chim’s career as an intellectually engaged photojournalist, placing his life and work in the broader context of 1930s–50s photography and European politics. Born Dawid Szymin in 1911 in Warsaw, Chim, who after World War II published under the name David Seymour, began his career in 1933 photographing regularly for leftist magazines in Paris, even before his close friends and collaborators Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. His most celebrated reportages include the rise of the Popular Front in prewar France; the Spanish Civil War, which he covered alongside Capa and Gerda Taro; the postwar reconstruction of Europe; and the birth of Israel. In each of his images, he combined rare intellectual acumen and emotional intelligence.
"Chim was a keen observer of European political affairs, from the beginnings of the antifascist struggle to the rebuilding of countries ravaged by World War II," said ICP Curator Cynthia Young, who organized the exhibition. "Although war formed the backdrop to much of his reportage, Chim was not known primarily for his war photography. Through his images of this period of radical upheaval, he emerges as a thoughtful reporter and a creator of elegant compositions of startling grace and beauty."
Some of his photographs are well known—a woman nursing a child during a political meeting in Spain, a Polish girl in front of a drawing of her “home” after World War II, Picasso in front of his painting Guernica, a wedding in the new state of Israel—but other lesser known images are just as striking—workers at the Vatican waiting for lunch, a tomato garden in the postwar ruins of Frankfurt, children playing on Omaha Beach in front of a half-sunk military boat. These images delineate a sophisticated documentary practice in which Chim infused the informative detail with metaphor.