Chim-The Photographs of David Seymour
1911-Chim  1933-Paris  1936-Spain  1947-Germany  1948-UNICEF  1950-Italy  1952-Portraits  1954-Greece  1956-Israel
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1911 - Chim's Beginnings

Poland, circa 1932. Photographer unknown.
©1996 from the Estate of David Seymour

Photograph of Chim by Elliot Erwitt
© 1996 Elliott Erwitt

Chim was born David Szymin on November 20, 1911, in Warsaw, Poland, then a province of Czarist Russia. On becoming a photo- reporter in Paris in 1933, he signed his work "CHIM," a French phonetic abbreviation of his surname, distinctive in its use of capital letters and elegant in its brevity. Life began for David and his sister, Eileen, three years his senior, as the children of Regina and Benjamin Szymin, a respected publisher of Yiddish and Hebrew books. They enjoyed an excellent education in Jewish and secular subjects, with David attending the Jewish Gymnasium Ascolah.

Upon passing his baccalaureate David also went off to Germany, to Leipzig, to the Akademie der Graphischen und Buch Küenste (Academy of Graphic and Book Arts), the finest school in the art of book making. David specialized in new color printing techniques, suitable for reproduction of paintings in books.

Photography would have an important role to play in the post- World War I world, a world in which people had suffered and been killed by the millions, and monarchies had given rise to republics. Now, citizens of these new republics were to reap the rewards of personal dignity and productivity.

This optimism and good will did not last long. Under the strain of mass unemployment, new forms of autocracy and fascism soon flourished. In 1929 when David arrived in Leipzig, German unemployment stood at one million. Two years later, six times that number were without work. In the 1932 national elections, Hitler's National Socialists increased their seats in the Reichstag from seven to twelve. By the time David graduated from the Academy of Graphic and Book Arts, Germany was well on the road to National Socialism, in a vortex of economic turmoil, and in increasing danger of major political excesses.

Back in Poland, David found economic conditions stagnant and fascist tendencies on the rise. He decided to move to Paris, to complete his studies at the Sorbonne. When he arrived in Paris in the fall of 1932, David had barely turned twenty-two. He had registered at the Sorbonne as a student in advanced chemistry and physics and had an allowance from home, but soon the economy in Poland weakened and this affected his father's business. Not wanting to be a burden to his family, David thought about supplementing his funds. A Paris friend of the family, David Rappaport, owned a pioneer picture agency "Rap," which supplied photographs to book publishers and to a growing number of magazines and newspapers. He loaned David a 35mm camera and suggested he try his hand at taking pictures suitable for production.

In November 1933, David wrote to his girlfriend, Emma, in Warsaw:

    Today it is one year since I came to Paris -- an important anniversary that puts me in a mood for reflection and memories. As you know, I am not any more working at reproduction (lithography). I am a reporter, or more exactly, a photo-reporter... My stories appeared lately in Paris Soir (about the Metro.) Regards will publish my two big stories. Basically I am satisfied with myself, because I am working well. I know what I want at this moment and I am making progress in that direction. But I want to do something bigger. Then, socially, I am moving in new circles, away from the Polish gang. I am more among photographers, thinking people, interested in the same problems as myself. We are trying to organize some kind of association of revolutionary-minded people.

His two photographer friends are André Friedman, later to be known as Robert Capa, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, bylined Henri Cartier before the war. The first historic meetings of the triumvirate that would become Magnum occurred in those heady and tumultuous days when Paris was a fermenting ground of clashing ideologies.

- Inge Bondi

© 1996, Inge Bondi
from CHIM: The Photographs of David Seymour, Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown and Company

1911-Chim  1933-Paris  1936-Spain  1947-Germany  1948-UNESCO  1950-Italy  1952-Portraits  1954-Greece  1956-Israel
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