David Seymour, “Chim”, the Polish emigrant who defined an era of sympathetic humanity through his lens, was one of the founders of Magnum. An art lover, Seymour photographed famous personalities such as the art historian Bernard Berenson, musician Arturo Toscanini, and author Carlo Levi.
Arturo Toscanini was perhaps the greatest conductor of the twentieth century, and widely regarded as an authoritative interpreter of the works of Verdi, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner. Toscanini revolutionized musical interpretation by frequently insisting that his orchestras play the music exactly as written. Although the great Italian composer generally refused all requests to be photographed, Countess Castelbarco, his daughter, requested that Chim photograph him, and Toscanini agreed. The above image captures the composer at his piano with the death masks of Beethoven, Wagner, and Verdi in a case behind him. Verdi was extremely dear to Toscanini because at Verdi’s funeral in 1901, Toscanini conducted a performance of “Va, pensiero” (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabacco), which ensured Verdi’s success when it was first performed (in “Nabucco”). In 1957, the piece was played as part of a memorial concert for Toscanini, who had just died.
The Spanish Republican government had wanted a heroic piece to showcase the modern Spain at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. Pablo Picasso turned his commission into anything but. Under his brush, the tragic bombing of Gernika, Basque Country, by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces, on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, into a nerve-wrecking elegy of individual suffering and an embodiment of peace.
Fully of hidden images, allegorical figures and meaningful gravitas, Guernica depicted suffering people, animals, and buildings wrenched by violence and chaos. At its unveiling at the World’s Fair, David Seymour (Chim) was on hand to photograph the artist in front of his work as it received its first public showing (above). Chim proved more amenable to the piece than his contemporaries who was widely criticized the painting. The German fair guide called it “a hodgepodge of body parts that any four-year old could have painted.” The Soviets, who favored realistic imagery, didn’t like it either. Leftists and communists, the very people who it championed, attacked the painting as devoid of any politics and that it expressed suffering rather than optimism. In Spain, it was declared to be “antisocial and entirely foreign to a healthy proletarian outlook.”
Picasso’s artist friends however realized the importance of the painting very early on. His muse Dora Maar frequented the studio in the Rue des Grands-Augustins to make a photographic record of the entire creative process. Along side the painting, the Museo Reina Sofía holds Marr’s twenty-eight photos showing Picasso at work. A tapestry copy, less monochromatic than the original with strong several shades of brown, was donated to the United Nations by the Rockefellers. On February 5, 2003 a large blue curtain was placed to cover this work as the Bush Administration objected to it being in the background while the American diplomats argued for war on Iraq.
At first glance, one would think this is a photo of a child randomly scribling with chalk. This memorable image of Terezka was taken in a Center for Disturbed Children. Terezka grew up in a concentration camp; assignment that day at the center was ‘To jest dom”- “This is home”. As seen in David Seymour’s contact sheets below, other children drew pictures of their houses and families, surrounded by crosses and trees. Terezka drew a picture of her “home” in Poland on the blackboard; they were scrawls — barbed wires surrounding concentration camp where she grew up.
In 1948, the UNICEF commissioned David Seymour for a project on childhood after the war that became a posthumous exhibition, CHIM’s Children, in 1957 at the Art Institute of Chicago. During three months in 1948, Chim photographed children in many countries, including Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Greece, and his native Poland, where he took the picture of Terezka.
Selected by Edward Steichen for his exhibition The Family of Man, the photo also appeared in Life magazine, in a fitting photoessay documenting the shattered lives of post-war children in Europe. David Seymour (also known as Chim) (1911-1956) was a founder of Magnum Photos (with Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson) in 1947 and one of the leading photojournalists of the 20th century. See his portfolio here and most of his photoessays are on his facebook fan page.