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

Photographer unknown
©1996 from the Estate of David Seymour

Prostitute near the Krupp works. Essen, 1947
©1996 from the Estate of David Seymour

A German grave in the Huertgen Forest. Germany, 1947
©1996 from the Estate of David Seymour

Gardening amid ruins in front of the Reichstag. Berlin, 1947
©1996 from the Estate of David Seymour

Illegitimate child of a British soldier. Essen, 1947
©1996 from the Estate of David Seymour

When war broke out in Europe on September 3, 1939, two days after Hitler had invaded Chim's native Poland, Chim knew there would be little European interest in stories coming out of Mexico, and that he might soon have difficulty as a national of a country occupied by German forces. Two days after the war began, Chim arrived in New York, a man without a country, but at least a "friendly" alien.

Chim did not have a work permit, but he was allowed to be an employer. He therefore entered into a partnership with a Berlin photographer, Leo Cohn, to operate Leco, a darkroom on 42nd Street, opposite the New York Public Library, and not far from the editorial offices of LIFE and other magazines. Chim, it turned out, was a natural patron. Soon André Kertesz and Philippe Halsman, recently arrived from Paris, and other well established photographers made Leco their darkroom. At Leco, Chim employed his considerable knowledge of chemistry and physics to research fine-grain developing, and methods of print control.

The genial Leco atmosphere enabled Chim to stay in touch with the latest trends in photojournalism, with New York-based editors and writers, and also to keep his finger on the pulse of developments in Europe. It was a time when most new arrivals to the United States were not flush with cash, and Chim was no exception. The Automat soon served as a substitute for European cafes. Writers, photographers, and film people from Europe gathered there for hours discussing the latest developments in the war.

Chim tried to enlist with the Office of Strategic Services to place his knowledge of Europe and six languages at their disposal. When the OSS responded that they had no room for him, Chim tried unsuccessfully for a job as a photographer for the Air Force. In October 1942, Chim was drafted into the Army, but found unfit for active combat because of his poor eyesight. He was sent to military intelligence training at Camp Ritchie in Maryland. There he was trained as an aerial photo-interpreter, an important job requiring secrecy, discipline, intelligence, and skill, for it was from such analyses that strategic decision for bombing, and later, attacks on land, were made. Within the year, he was promoted from private to sergeant, and shipped out to England. Before he left, he changed his name to David Robert Seymour, which he thought sounded Anglo- Saxon, lest his parents be punished by the Germans for their Polish, Jewish son serving with the enemy.

Chim landed in France not long after D-Day, and moved with the 12th Army Corps through Normandy and northern France to arrive in Paris in time to celebrate its liberation. In Paris, his joy was great when at a party he found himself reunited with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and other old friends. He found his old apartment sealed by the SS, but its contents remained untouched.

For his part, Chim was awarded a Bronze Star. He returned to the United States as a courier in the fall of 1945, carrying two thousand confidential negatives to the Pentagon. Soon thereafter he was mustered out of the Army.

By April 1947, Chim had found a way of returning to photography. He flew back to Europe on military transport to take photographs for a special issue of This Week magazine, to be published in cooperation with a CBS radio broadcast. The projected called "We Went Back" was to be aired on the second anniversary of the end of the war. Chim had been planning to return to the United States at the end of the project, but partway through the assignment he received a cable from Maria Eisner in New York:



Bob Capa had taken the initiative. He decided the time had come to set up shop with that like-minded group Chim had so longed for as a newly minted photo-reporter. Thirteen years and two wars later, the international photographer's cooperative Magnum Photos Inc. was born. Its members: Henri Cartier-Bresson (a Frenchman), Robert Capa (a Hungarian), Chim (a Pole), George Rodger (an Englishman), and William Vandivert (an American).

The timing was right. Photojournalism was about to enter a golden decade. Television was not yet available to broadcast world events, and editors and the public were eager for news, from which they had been cut off during the fascist years and war years.

While the plans for Magnum were being realized in New York, with the final meeting in the terrace restaurant on the roof of The Museum of Modern Art. Chim continued his assignment for This Week magazine.

At the founding, the Magnum photographers divided the world among themselves. Each one of them had his own area of long-range geographic interest, and each had in hand arrangements for protracted work. Chim wanted to explore Europe, particularly Eastern Europe. Always at the back of his mind was worry about the fate of his parents. The world now knew about the systematic destruction of Europe's Jews, but like millions of others, Chim had been unable to find out the fate of his parents in Poland. Bob Capa had chosen to become Magnum's roving photographer. Cartier-Bresson and his Indonesian wife were longing to travel throughout the Far East, where Henri felt interesting developments would take place. George Rodger and his first wife Cicely set off for Rodger's prime area of interest, Africa, and William Vandivert photographed in the United States.

- 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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