Chim: David Seymour's Humanist Photography
National Gallery of Art, home page
Image: Chim's 1936 press card from the French photo agency RAP, which was owned by a family friend Chim's 1936 press card from the French photo agency RAP, which was owned by a family friend
© Chim Archive
Image: A flyer for a 1933 Paris photo exhibition includes Chim, only a year into his career, among an impressive roster of photographers A flyer for a 1933 Paris photo exhibition includes Chim, only a year into his career, among an impressive roster of photographers
© Chim Archive

Paris

Seymour arrived in Paris from his native Poland in 1932. While studying science at the Sorbonne, he found work at a family friend's small photo agency, RAP. Though he had no formal photographic training, he had likely been exposed to modern photography and graphic arts during his studies in Leipzig, and using a borrowed camera, he was soon making publishable photographs.

Unlike many émigrés, Seymour quickly adapted to life in Paris. He wrote to his girlfriend in Warsaw in 1933, "I am sitting at my big desk, with a globe of the world on it, in my new apartment….I am getting to know Paris. I am becoming a part of it….I am a reporter, or more exactly, a photo-reporter." He drifted away from the Polish community and picked up new photographer friends, especially Henri Cartier-Bresson and André Friedmann (who would soon be known as Robert Capa); the three for a time would share an apartment in which the bathroom doubled as a darkroom.

Chim arrived in Paris amid heightened domestic and international tension. France was bitterly divided politically and Hitler had recently assumed Germany's chancellorship. But this also proved a propitious moment to enter photojournalism. Innovative illustrated weeklies proliferated in Paris in the early and mid-1930s, and they required large numbers of topical pictures.

Regards, the pioneering weekly picture magazine for which Chim began to work in 1934, was perfectly in tune with his progressive political outlook. Run by leftist intellectuals, Regards championed the cause of the Front Populaire, a clamorous political alliance of trade unionists, socialists, and communists that won the general election in May 1936.