Though he co-founded Magnum Photos with Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and George Rodger and though – like them – he was one of the great documentary photographers of the 20th century, David ‘Chim’ Seymour is less famous than his colleagues. But this winter, a large retrospective in Amsterdam looks set to change all that.
Chim [pronounced “Shim’] acquired his nickname from his surname, because he was born Dawid Szymin in Warsaw, Poland, in 1911. His family was Jewish, and his parents were respected publishers of Yiddish and Hebrew Books; Chim and his parents left Warsaw for Odessa as World War One broke out in 1914, returning to Warsaw in 1919. Chim studied printing in Leipzig, then chemistry and physics at the Sorbonne in Paris, but got into photography while in France and started working as a freelance journalist in 1933. His first credited photograph was published in 1934 in the French communist magazine Regards.
From 07 November to 04 February, the Centre Pompidou in Paris is showing a striking exhibition on a little-known aspect of the roots of 20th century social documentary photography, Photographie, arme de classe [which roughly translates as ‘Photography as a weapon in the class struggle’]. Curated by Damarice Amao, Florian Ebner and Christian Joschke, the show deals with a comparatively unknown period in French photo history, from the end of the 1920s to the arrival of the Front populaire government of 1936 – when the socialist, communist and radical parties formed a short-lived coalition to govern France, with the tacit backing of the Soviet Union.
Photographer and activist Henri Tracol (1909-1997) was the first to formulate the idea that photography could be an “arme de classe”, in the tract he wrote for the photographer’s section of the Association des Écrivains et Artistes Revolutionnaires [‘Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists’ aka the AEAR], formed in 1932. Although this communist front, Moscow-sponsored organisation only lasted a few years, it attracted many of the leading figures of the day from art, theatre, literature, architecture, and particularly photography. Those who joined were either fellow travellers or politically attached to communism, seeing it as a bastion against the twin evils of the time – fascism and capitalism.
The first event of its kind in Nigeria, LagosPhoto Festival is back for its 9th edition this autumn. Themed Time Has Gone, the main show includes work by 22 artists from around the world who engage with the idea of time in various ways, from issues of archiving to nostalgia to an Afro-based future. Artists featured in the main programme include: Ola Olatunde, who’s from Nigeria; Mary Evans (Nigeria/UK); Alfredo Jaar (Chile); and Emmanuelle Andrianjafy (Madagascar); LagosPhoto has been curated by Eva Barois De Caevel, Wunika Mukan, Charlotte Langhorst, and Valentine Umansky.
In addition other spaces across Lagos will host 41 other exhibitions during LagosPhoto Festival – with the respected Market Photo Workshop, for example, hosting an exhibition of work by emerging image-makers Dahlia Maubane, Sydelle Willow Smith and Tshepiso Mazibuko. The main festival is based in The Federal Printing Press Building on Lagos Island, Lago, and in outdoor exhibitions in spaces such as Ikorodu Park and Freedom Park, while the satellite exhibitions and events will take place in institutions such as the African Artists’ Foundation, Omenka Gallery, and Gallery 16/16.
Born Diane Nemerov in 1923, to a wealthy family in New York, Diane Arbus started out in photography shooting fashion with her husband, Allan Arbus, working for magazines such as Glamour, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. In 1956 she quit commercial photography – apparently announcing “I can’t do it anymore. I’m not going to do it anymore” during a spring shoot for Vogue – and took to the streets, documenting passersby, and studying with Lisette Model. Quickly finding her signature style, her work was shown in the New Documents exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967, which was curated by John Szarkowski and also included work by Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander.
Her portraits proved divisive, and has remained so – some, mostly notably Susan Sontag, judging it coldly voyeuristic, while others feel a sense of empathy. Arbus’ subjects often came from outside of her personal sphere, the circus, for example, or New York’s clubs, and she herself stated that her favourite thing was “to go where I’ve never been”. On the other hand, she could also find a sense of the unsettling in Central Park. In 1971, she took her own life.
Yuel Elob just saved up to buy a fixie bike, “just for fun, because I love cycling so much”. Daniel loves music and DJ-ing. Bada Yusuf volunteered at Pride’s pop-up shop last year, and met a group of people who are now “all friends, and I have parties at my house”. They sound like typical young Londoners but their stories are anything but – war and persecution meant all three were forced to leave their countries, and start again from scratch in London. Even so all three have found jobs, and Yusuf has nearly finished a Masters.
They feature in an exhibition called Breaking Barriers, which aims to show “the dreams and challenges faced by refugees in the UK”. Co-curated by Rebecca McClelland, who spent seven years as a photographic editor at The Sunday Times Magazine before becoming the New Statesman’s first photographic lead, the show features portraits by world-famous image-makers such as Diana Markosian, Nick Waplington, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin.
Set up 14 years ago, Getty Images’ Reportage Grant awards “front-line photojournalists from around the world for projects with a strong visual narrative”, aiming to help them pursue long-term documentary projects. This year, the three selected photographers have won with very different projects – Giulio Di Sturco with Aerotropolis, The Way We Will Live Next; Léonard Pongo with The Uncanny; and Rose Marie Cromwell with King of Fish.
Brussels-based photographer Rebecca Fertinel has won the Unseen Dummy Award with her book Ubuntu. The book was shot in a Congolese community in Belgium, which Fertinel first visited in August 2015, when she was invited to a wedding by a friend. Whilst there she was introduced to a warm and friendly society, and the concept of “ubuntu” – the idea that “you become a human being by connecting with everything and everyone”.
The judges were particularly impressed with the editing of Fertinel’s book proposal which, they say, “transforms documentary photography into an unexpected narrative flow of community events”. The images move from one party to another party to a funeral, for example, the latter creating “a kind of breaking point” in the middle of the book, creating “a kind of dance where you don’t know what comes after”, and thereby summing up something about life.
“From the 1890s through to just after the Second World War, modern artist couples forged new ways of making art and of living and loving,” Jane Alison, head of visual arts at London’s Barbican, says. She’s putting the final touches to Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde – a mammoth endeavour that examines how the work of individual artists and writers was shaped by the relationships they embarked on with each other.
The show spans painting, sculpture, literature, dance, music, architecture and photography, and includes ephemera such as personal photographs and love letters alongside artworks. It’s also far from a cursory look at the history of art’s favourite romantic pairings. The likes of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, or Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, have their part to play here, but so do lesser-known affiliations, from Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore to George Platt Lynes, Monroe Wheeler and Glenway Wescott, whose enduring ménage à trois turned their travels around Europe into an intensely fruitful creative experience.
Think about conspiracy theories and the initial topics that come to mind often occupy a realm that’s beyond an everyday belief system – stories such as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot or similar tales that are better contextualised as ‘urban legends’. While those stories might not have much truth to offer, there are many other theories within the category that, although fantastical, contain far more fact than fiction. These include the secretive workings of those in power which lead to a mutual feeling of suspicion between the authorities, government and citizens.
What is arguably more interesting than the concepts themselves, however, is the way that some individuals compile their own investigative research on suspicious topics, creating accessible and expressive visuals soaked in data, philosophy, and their take on the truth. From 18 September to 06 January, The Met Breuer in New York will exhibit the expansive show Everything Is Connected: Art and Conspiracy, featuring 70 works by 30 artists who represent an alternative to postwar and contemporary art from 1969 to 2016. The media presented in the exhibition includes painting, sculpture, video, installation art and, of course, photography.
It’s six years since the inaugural edition of Unseen Amsterdam arrived with the mission to shake up the art fair model, focusing on emerging photographers and collectors, and instilling a welcome dose of fun to proceedings. And despite its beginnings during difficult times for arts funding, the ‘fair with a festival flair’ has largely succeeded, developing into something more ambitious than a glorified trade show, with its own public programme and a city-wide celebration of the medium in one of the world’s great photography capitals.
The emphasis remains on championing new talent, and with this in mind, the latest addition to Unseen is Futures, a cross-European photography platform bringing together 10 cultural institutions from around the continent, each with their own talent programmes.