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David Seymour only reached the age of 45; but in the few decades of his photographic career he created a broad and diverse body of work. Even though he risked, and ultimately lost, his life working in war and crisis zones, his oeuvre also includes numerous photographs of celebrities and actors. In addition to being a reportage photographer and engaged documentarist, he also worked as a carefully-observant portraitist. As far as he was concerned, both extremes belonged together, so as to better understand the world in all its brutal reality, its socio-political and cultural dynamics, and to capture it for a broad range of magazine readers.

Seymour's photography colleagues always described him as relaxed, incredibly friendly, and broadly educated; a man who was always present, though virtually no one knew anything about his private side. His life was too eventful to allow him to settle down, and – according to biographies – it was only shortly before he passed away that he moved into the first flat of his own in Rome, having previously lived mainly in hotels. He worked most of his life in Europe, but during the Second World War he was in the USA, where he became an American citizen and changed his name of birth, Dawid Szymin, to David Seymour. His photographs, however, were always published under the short pseudonym, Chim.

Seymour was born in Warsaw in 1911, the son of a Jewish publisher, and was predestined to continue the family business after completing studies in Leipzig and Paris. However, he had already begun working as a photographer, and his first reportages were being published. He photographed the Spanish Civil War, after which he managed to emigrate to the USA via Mexico. In 1947 he picked up his work as a photojournalist again and returned to Europe a year later.

While in New York in 1947, he followed and often played a mediating role in the establishment of the Magnum Agency alongside Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, as he was considered not only a good businessman, but also a clever negotiator. From 1954 up until he died, he was also President of the agency. His tragic death left a gaping hole felt not only by his Magnum colleagues, but by many others as well. At the beginning of November 1956 he had travelled to the Suez Canal on assignment for Newsweek: it was three days after an official ceasefire had been agreed upon by the warring parties, and he wanted to report on the exchange of prisoners of war. As he and his French colleague, Jean Roy, stepped over the front line, they were shot by Egyptian soldiers. Seymour's photographic life's work remains a treasure trove of discoveries to this day. (Ulrich Rüter)

In the Classic segment of the coming issue 1/2022 of the LFI magazine, we are presenting a comprehensive coverage of David Seymour.

Photo: David Seymour (Chim), 1954, © by Elliott Erwitt, Magnum Photos and Agentur Focus.
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