“‘All you need,’ David Seymour who is also known as Chim, once said as a noted photographer orated on the psychology behind one of his pictures, ‘is a little bit of luck and enough muscle to click the shutter.’ He might have added: A good eye, a heart and a knowing nose for news. For all of these were obvious in his work.” -Judith Fried
David Szymin a.k.a. David Seymour — Chim
Chim is what everyone called photographer David Seymour. Pronounced “Shim” it’s how his original last name, Szymin, sounds. He was born in Warsaw in 1911 to a family of publishers. They moved to Russia at the start of the First World War returning to Poland when it ended. he studied printing in Leipzig, then physics and chemistry at the Sorbonne.
A borrowed camera
Chim was loaned a camera by the head of the Rap Agency, David Rappaport. Chim began making photographs. He was greatly influenced by the after-dark work of Brassaï’s Paris de Nuit. He produced a story on night workers. He began his freelancing career in 1934 with stories printed regularly in Regards and Paris-Soir. He met both Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson around this time.
The Spanish Civil War
Chim photographed the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1938 then went on to Mexico on an assignment to document the situation of 150,000 Spanish loyalists to the exiled Spanish Republican government.
He moved to New York as World War II began and adopted the name David Seymour. He served in the U.S. Army as an interpreter of reconnaissance photos, earning a medal for his work. Both of his parents were killed by the Nazis.
Forming Magnum Photos
Seymour along with Capa, Cartier-Bresson, George Roger and William Vandivert started Magnum Photos in 1947. The next year UNICEF hired him to photography needy children in Europe.
Children of Europe
In the introduction to his book, Children of Europe wrote: “I would like to speak a little about myself, but mainly about the 13,000,000 abandoned children in Europe who had their first experience of life in an atmosphere of death and destruction, and who passed their first years in underground shelters, bombed streets, ghettoes set on fire, refugee trains and concentration camps.”
The documentary images were first published in Life magazine and then in book form in 1949, which chronicled the struggles, hardships and poverty that European children suffered during and after World War II. The work showed how organizations by UNESCO, UNICEF and others were helping the victims of the war.
He continued working on major stories in Europe and documented the beginnings of the nation of Israel. When Capa died on assignment, he became Magnum’s president.
David Seymour remained in that position until he was killed by Egyptian machine-gun fire near the Suez Canal in November 1956.
Read about other inspirational photographers in On Photography.