Photojournalist David "Chim" Seymour was born David Szymin in Warsaw, Poland, in 1911. At the start of World War I, he and his family moved to Russia, returning to their homeland in 1919.
He studied chemistry and physics in Paris in the 1930s before becoming a freelance photographer.
After photographing the Spanish Civil War, Chim, whose nickname comes from the phonetic first syllable of his original last name, moved to New York as World War II broke out.
From 1942 through 1945, he interpreted photographs for the U.S. Army. Two years after his service he founded Magnum Photos with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, George Rodger and William Vandivert.
In 1956, four days after the Armistice at Suez, Chim was shot and killed by Egyptian gunfire near the Suez Canal as he photographed a prisoner exchange.
His nephew, Ben Shneiderman, said his mother and Chim's sister learned about the incident on the news. Shneiderman was 9 years old at the time but has since become the executor of Chim's estate.
“The important thing about Chim is he made remarkable human connections with his subjects,” Shneiderman said. Sifting through his work and archives has revealed the depth of Chim's stylistic contribution, as well as how his imagery was used in newspapers.
“We Went Back,” an exhibit at the International Center for Photography will show a retrospective of Chim's career from the 1930s through the 1950s, starting January 18.
“The humanity of his effort – that’s what inspires me,” Shneiderman said. Chim's photographs show both what’s good about the world and what needs improvement.
He traveled frequently at a time when travel was not easily accessible. He found a way into political events – before the Internet – and made the right images.
Shneiderman remembers that Chim was always a classy dresser and taught his niece what drinks to order at a bar and how to dress like a young lady.
For Chim, it was important to bridge the effects of the war on Europeans for Americans through personal stories, like his photo essay Children of War, which he shot for UNICEF. It revealed the often horrible conditions of children after WWII.
His style has been influential to the humanistic role of photography. As a photo collective, Magnum has been providing opportunities for photographers to continue the legacy.
“These guys believed photos could change the world,” Shneiderman said. “The amazing thing is sometimes they actually succeeded and produced change.”
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN