“We Went Back: Photographs from Europe 1933–1956 by Chim” – for long time expected exhibition of one of the most respected photojournalists of 20th century, will be presented at the International Center of Photography in New York from January 18 to May 5, 2013.
This retrospective exhibition follows the development of Chim’s career as photojournalist, placing his life and work in the broader context of 1930s–50s photography and European politics.
“We Went Back” features over 150 mainly vintage black-and-white prints, previously unseen colour prints-(mostly from a recently discovered negatives from the Mexican Suitcase), publications, contact sheets, and personal objects. All of the material in the show is from the collections of ICP and Chim’s family.
Dawid Szymin (Chim) was born in 1911 in Warsaw, in family, who ran a publishing house specialized in Hebrew and Yiddish translations of European and American classic novels. To prepare for entry into the family business, Chim studied first in Leipzig, then at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he moved in 1932. His career path was diverted when, to cover living expenses, he picked up a camera of his friend and began photographing Popular Front events for the major French picture magazine Regards. Because “Szymin” was too complicated to pronounce or spell, he proposed “Chim” as a by-line and the name stuck.
In the spring of 1936, he was sent to Spain to report on the mood of the country following the recent elections. Within months his work was widely published in the international picture press, and he became, along with Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, one of the most important photographers of the conflict in Spain.
Back in Paris in 1939, Chim faced terrible prospects as a Jew, a foreigner, and a leftist, that’s why he escaped from France with Spanish refugees to Mexico. Later that year, he arrived in New York, where he reconnected with Robert Capa and other friends. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1942, under the name David Seymour. When World War II broke out, Chim enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to aerial photo reconnaissance at Medmenham, England. He arrived in Paris days after the liberation in 1944.
In 1947, he founded the collective Magnum Photos with Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and George Rodger. That same year, he photographed daily life in Europe two years after the war ended for a story titled “We Went Back,” which effectively relaunched his career as a photojournalist. Chim travelled incessantly for the next nine years on assignment for international magazines and special projects, publishing under the by-line David Seymour. In 1948, he documented the impact of the war on children across Europe for a UNESCO commission, creating very touching series “Chim’s children”. Then he spent several years observing post-war Italy and its transition to democracy. Beginning in 1951, he travelled regularly to Israel to document the new country and life of the settlers. He was killed while photographing the Suez Crisis in November 1956.
This exhibition is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Bernard Lee Schwartz Foundation, Inc., by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and with the support of the Polish Cultural Institute New York.
Photo: Workers at the canteen, Vatican City, Rome, 1949 © Chim (David Seymour)/Magnum Photos