Chim: David Seymour's Humanist Photography
National Gallery of Art, home page
Image: Letter from the Paris office of the International Committee of Coordination and Information for Assistance to Republican Spain, asking Chim quickly to send two of his photos of Republican leaders to Amsterdam for an exhibition, December 15, 1936 Letter from the Paris office of the International Committee of Coordination and Information for Assistance to Republican Spain, asking Chim quickly to send two of his photos of Republican leaders to Amsterdam for an exhibition
December 15, 1936
© Chim Archive

Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War began in July 1936. The officer corps, led by General Francisco Franco, attempted to overthrow the Frente Popular, a leftist coalition that had narrowly won recent elections. The conflict quickly assumed an international dimension: Franco's Nationalist forces were backed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the poorly trained and equipped Republicans received support from the Soviet Union and an international brigade of sympathizers who hoped to save the elected government.

War photography dates to the Crimean War (1853–1856), but the Spanish Civil War was the first conflict to be extensively photographed for a mass audience. It marks the birth of modern war photography. A corps of professional photographers equipped with small cameras was able to take pictures of all aspects of the war, including close-ups of battles, and their work was published almost immediately in newspapers and magazines across the world.

Chim, sent by Regards, was one of the first photographers on the scene, and he spent much of the next thirty months shooting the war. He covered the Republicans' earliest battles but soon turned his focus to the plight of civilians behind the front lines and the wider effort to support the government forces.