Chim: David Seymour's Humanist Photography
National Gallery of Art, home page
Image: Chim at work, Photographer and date unknown Chim at work
Photographer and date unknown
© Chim Archive


We are only trying to tell a story. Let the 17th-century painters worry about the effects. We've got to tell it now, let the news in, show the hungry face, the broken land, anything so that those who are comfortable may be moved a little.
—David Seymour

David Seymour (1911–1956), known as Chim (pronounced shim) after his original Polish surname, was a pioneering photojournalist whose unapologetically compassionate work reflected both his deep-seated humanism and his belief in the unique ability of photography to awaken the public's conscience. Highly cultured and conversant in eight languages, Seymour combined technical skill, formidable intellect, and intense empathy to tell stories photographically.

Constantly on the move, Seymour used his camera as a weapon with which to document—and to combat—the injustice, unrest, and violence that plagued Europe, and later the Middle East, from the mid-1930s through the mid-1950s. He took notable battle photographs during the Spanish Civil War and covered the Suez conflict in 1956, but his most memorable photographs document civilians behind the front lines coping with the devastating effects of war. In these deeply affecting images, Seymour captured singular historical moments while simultaneously evoking universal human themes.

Seymour was also an accomplished portraitist—of intellectuals and, later in his career, celebrities—and an avid documentor of street life. One of his greatest legacies is the storied Magnum Photos cooperative, which he cofounded in 1947 and directed for two years after his close friend Robert Capa's untimely death in 1954.