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.
“I never thought of myself as doing anything other than telling stories,” said Erich Lessing. “The camera became the medium through which I did that, but I don’t carry a camera everywhere I go. To me, it is simply the means to a very specific end. I observe the world through my eyes and not through the viewfinder of a camera. I don’t interpret, nor do I adjust anything in the dark room. I am a realistic photographer.”
They’re modest words from a man who created iconic images of the 20th century, and who was a member of Magnum Photos for well over half a century. His photographs of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 were seen around the world, as was his shot of the presentation of the Austrian State Treaty on the balcony of the Belvedere palace in front of a cheering crowd in 1955.
“Photography can be a powerful way of telling a story and these photos remind us that people have been fleeing conflict and persecution throughout history,” says Tom Davies, campaign manager at Amnesty International UK. “We’re trying to engage with the public – and ultimately decision-makers – to show that forced migration is not new, [and that] how we respond is up to us.” He’s talking about the I Welcome show, a joint initiative between Amnesty International and Magnum Photos open on London’s South Bank from 07-18 December. Featuring work by nearly 20 Magnum photographers, including Moises Saman, Philip Jones Griffiths, Thomas Dworzak and David “Chim” Seymour, it presents the depressing but inescapable truth that refugees have long existed, and in doing so provides a wider context for the current, ongoing crisis. “We felt that linking up with Magnum was a good way of showing that historical context,” explains Davies. “We were aware that it was Magnum’s 70th anniversary in 2017, and that they had an amazing back-catalogue of incredible photography, so we felt that in …