CHIM (DAVID SEYMOUR)
WHO IS CHIM?
David Seymour, who signed his reportages ‘Chim’, is one of the most celebrated photojournalists of the twentieth century. A cofounder of Magnum Photos, he covered conflicts, portrayed celebrities, and pioneered humanitarian photography while covering the plight of millions of children orphaned and abandoned after World War II. Based on archives, numerous interviews of friends and colleagues, and a comprehensive study of his contact sheets, Searching for the Light: David “Chim” Seymour, 1911-1956 is the first English-language in-depth illustrated biography to appear that explores his life from his childhood in Poland to his untimely death during the 1956 War in Sinai. His friend and colleague Henri Cartier-Bresson once wrote: “Chim picked up his camera the way a doctor takes his stethoscope out of his bag, applying his diagnosis to the condition of the heart; his own was vulnerable.”
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In the last fifteen years I have dedicated much of my research to Chim, a photographer whose life has followed an extraordinary trajectory. From struggling student in Paris to legendary photographer, his partnership with Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and George Rodger led to the founding of Magnum Photos. The Warsaw-born, Jewish son of a prominent Yiddish and Hebrew publisher was supposed to follow into his father’s footsteps, but instead the vagaries of history pushed him other directions entirely, so that his life, emblematic of the displacements and passages of the XXth century, parallels the trajectory of other Eastern-European artists, many of them Jewish, who had to reinvent themselves in exile during the 1930s. One of the first human-rights photographer, Chim, in the tradition of Lewis Hine, Jacob Riis and the FSA photographers, practiced advocacy as a vehicle of social change. His photography, in particular his work on children for UNICEF, was groundbreaking, and it inaugurated a tradition of photographers working with human rights organizations.
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“No one knows more about David Seymour than historian and curator Carole Naggar, who has studied his life and work for decades. Her long-awaited biography, handsomely edited by De Gruyter, provides a detailed, near-exhaustive overview of Seymour’s four and a half decades on this earth, primarily guided—starting in the 1930s—by his contact sheets and publications. The book, moreover, contains more than a hundred excellent reproductions that bring home the extraordinary power of Chim’s photographic gaze.(…) Her excellent biography should serve to rekindle the public’s interest in one of the most compelling photographers of the twentieth century.”
– Sebastiaan Faber
“Carole Naggar’s remarkable new biography of perhaps the most enigmatic figure among Magnum’s founding fathers – born Dawid Szymin, but known through much of his short but extraordinary life more simply as ‘Chim’ – leaves you thinking, “I would have loved to have met that man.” (…) Naggar’s profound and exhaustive research into Chim’s life covers every possible base, and also touches on contemporary issues, with so many parallels that can be drawn out between the current conflict in Ukraine as an echo of the 1930s.”
– Peter Hamilton