Chim-The Photographs of David Seymour
1911-Chim  1933-Paris  1936-Spain  1947-Germany  1948-UNICEF  1950-Italy  1952-Portraits  1954-Greece  1956-Israel
ICP CHIM Home Credits

1952 - Portraits of Personalities

Chim and Marilyn Monroe at The 21 Club. New York City, circa 1952.
Photograph by Burt Glinn.
1996 Burt Glinn

Sophia Loren at home. Naples, 1955
1996 from the Estate of David Seymour

Peggy Guggenheim, heiress, art collector, patroness, and philanthropist, on the roof of her Palazzo Balbi, which overlooks the Grand Canal. Venice, 1950
1996 from the Estate of David Seymour

Bernard Berenson, renowned art critic and author, at the age of 90 in the Borghese Gallery. Rome, 1955
1996 from the Estate of David Seymour

Ingrid Bergman at home with her son, Robertino Rossellini. Santa Marinella, Italy, 1956
1996 from the Estate of David Seymour

In those years, Magnum photographers helped each other, not only with their work, but sometimes also emotionally. Just before Magnum was founded, Robert Capa had ended a love affair with Ingrid Bergman. She was then still married to her first husband, the Swedish surgeon Peter Lindstrom, and she was an idol of public and press. Bob felt marrying would not be compatible with his work as a photographer, but they remained friends. In 1950 Ingrid gave birth to her first child with Roberto Rossellini. The world press hounded her for pictures, at the same time reviling her for having left her first husband and daughter. Chim was the only one Ingrid allowed to photograph her. Ingrid became, as Chim used to say, his "favorite subject." Two years later, Chim went down once again to Santa Marinella, and took the now- classic photographs of Ingrid and the twins. Ingrid soon wrote to him:

    Dear Chim:

    You are a marvelous photographer and I am a marvelous baby maker! Of course I have 103 requests among friends for these photos. You would do me a great favor if you burned number 85 even a marvelous photographer can go wrong! I am glad you realize that I am not the bathing suite type, either.

By 1953, Chim was in charge of the very complicated Magnum finances. George Rodger said, "Chim was brilliant in Magnum meetings, capable of making even the most cockeyed scheme not only feasible but financially stable." In the meetings, he was the mediator and peacemaker when tempers flared, usually on the subject of stories to be photographed, and how they might be financed.

In 1953, Chim in Rome, wrote to Magnum, New York:

    May 21, 1953

    I worry slightly about Bob in Hanoi. The papers are full today with news of Hanoi's eventual evacuation. It would be foolish for Bob to try a heroic "last days of Hanoi" story. He should get out now and fast I will not change this opinion even it he comes back with the most sensational story of his career. It is foolish to risk it and not worthwhile. So stick around the Life people and eventually send to Bob a short cable to keep his mind balanced and out of unnecessary excitement.

Four days later Bob stepped on a mine and was killed. He was forty years old. Chim had not yet heard that Werner Bischof had fatally plunged into a gorge in the Andes on May 16. He was thirty- eight years old; his second son, Daniel, had been born the day Bob Capa died.

Everyone at Magnum was stunned. Chim flew to Paris and consulted with Cartier-Bresson. He wrote to all photographers and staff:

    May 27, 1954

    My dear Magnum family:

    The lump is still in the throat, the dust not settled yet. The blow is hard, and the reaction slow to come. Somewhere, however, there is a faint reasonableness coming, and the realization that the reality has to be faced.

    If we are all numb at present, it looks like that soon enough we will have to face it. So we have to go on, keep together, and avoid the stunning effects of our sorrow. Maybe through this we will help ourselves, and find strength to keep and develop Magnum as a home for all of us.

Soon thereafter, Chim went to New York for the funeral and to take Magnum affairs in hand.

Julia Friedman, Bob Capa's mother was distraught. Like a son, Chim stood next to Julia with Bob's younger brother, Cornell, willing her not to jump into the open grave.

Martha Gellhorn, who first knew Bob Capa and Chim during the Spanish civil war, draws a fine picture of Chim and his relationship with Capa in her short story, "Until Death Us Do Part," written in 1958. In the story, Gellhorn has changed Chim's name to Lep, and Capa's to Bara. The narrator is a woman who wants Bara for herself:

    Bara and Lep worked as partners, covering the war for several magazines and papers in England and America; they divided the stories but Bara did not like Lep to go to the worst places; he had some anxious feeling about Lep's eyes and his huge horn-rimmed spectacles. If he protected anyone in the world, it was Lep. She was jealous of Lep...Should she parade her jealousy and force choices, Bara would take Lep.... Bara loved Lep; he needed Lep as he needed no one else; Lep was the one fixed point in his life.... Bara was so dashing in his special Gypsy way, loved by women, welcomed by men, a life giver.... And Lep looked something like an owl and something like a panda and something like a head of Buddha, quiet to the verge of invisibility, a man who smiled slowly and rarely laughed, a serious man, given to serious obscure friends like archaeologists and doctors and musicians in Philharmonic orchestras, a small gentle man with a domed forehead over his vast spectacles, not at all a man for war, a professor, who astonishingly enough was only two years older than Bara and often seemed old enough to be Bara's father.

    Bara said that Lep was the finest photographer alive, an artist, not a hit-and-run man with a camera like himself. Bara's pictures were the famous ones; everyone wanted Bara's work if they could get it; yet Bara only valued his pictures if Lep did; Lep was his final judge. His final judge in everything, she thought, for if Bara made the decisions in his final way, Lep had the right of veto, which he exerted quietly, hardly bothering to explain himself.... If Lep did not want to do something, then it should not be done; if Lep did not like something, then it was not to be liked.

He was now president, and unlike any other Magnum president, before or since, Chim's photography did not suffer during his presidential term. His output of administrative work and story coverage was prodigious.

Chim had thought of everything for Magnum, spending months working out issue of money and control. Having written the bylaws of the group he then asked all the photographers (after Capa's death) to make a will. But his own tragic fate could not be foreseen, and he forgot to write one for himself.

Beat The Devil, directed by John Huston, was one of the movies Magnum publicized. Chim had met Gina Lollobrigida on the movie set in Amalfi. She was very new in the industry, and so far mainly a cheesecake attraction. Chim was taken with Gina, not only with her splendid physique, but also because she had been an art student, designed all her own clothes, and was determined to succeed as a serious actress. Moreover she was puritanically modest, and so the gentlemanly Chim was just the person to entrust with the story of her transformation. Chim did several stories on her, and all were widely published; one week both Life and Look featured covers of Gina photographed by Chim. Word got around, and soon he was asked to publicize other new stars, Kim Novak, Joan Collins, even Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn. True magazine, not a regular Magnum client, asked Chim to photograph Sophia Loren. They were not satisfied, and asked for more material. Chim responded, "The news that she was not exciting enough was the greatest blow to my masculinity.... I must be oversexed."

Entertainment and tourism were strong subjects in the fifties, and coverage of movies for magazine publication became a lucrative and interesting proposition for Magnum photographers; they corresponded with Chim's way of doing stories that would elevate the spirit. But there were other topics that Chim felt would benefit the public: one of them was his coverage of the fiftieth Nobel prize ceremony. Another humanistic report was a mini-series that he proposed to his regular client Newsweek that would "dramatize the human qualities of modern missionaries (teachers, technicians, scientists, officials, experts, etc.). The conception of good-doers is lately ill considered. I feel it would be important to glamorize them," he wrote. Eventually, this series transformed into one on old men who had, in their lives' work, elevated the spirit of mankind. It cannot be coincidence that Chim chose as his first subject a man for whom music was the essence of life. Chim, who had first thought of becoming a pianist, made haunting pictures of Toscanini at the keyboard. These are only excelled by his reportage on the ninety- year-old Bernard Berenson, especially one photograph of the old man yearning over the cold marble of a reclining nude. Like Berenson, Chim was addicted to looking, a connoisseur of the gentle sex, not only in art, but also in the flesh. They both loved beauty.

- 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
ICP CHIM Home Credits