Chim: David Seymour's Humanist Photography
National Gallery of Art, home page
Image: David Seymour (Chim), Child's Funeral, Matera, Italy, 1948, gelatin silver print David Seymour (Chim)
Child's Funeral, Matera, Italy, 1948
gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Ben Shneiderman
© David Seymour Estate/Magnum Photos

Children of Europe

Child's Funeral, Matera, Italy

Chim made this bird's-eye view photograph of a funeral procession for a child in Matera, an ancient hillside town in a region of southern Italy that was widely considered among the most backward in Europe. (In Italy, a child's hearse is traditionally white.)

Chim's trip to Matera may have been instigated by his close friend Carlo Levi, a writer and painter from northern Italy whose shocking description of the town, published in Christ Stopped at Eboli (1945), made it a national disgrace: "I have never in all my life seen such a picture of poverty…I saw children sitting on the doorsteps of their homes, in the dirt, in the scorching sun, with half shut eyes and red and swollen eyelids, and when the flies settled on their eyelids, the children seemed not to feel them."

Besides its devastating poverty, Chim was likely also attracted to the town's early and deep ties to Catholicism. Despite being Jewish and agnostic, Chim had an abiding interest in Catholic rites and festivals, which would culminate in his making photographs for a book on the Vatican in 1949.