The Opening of Chim's "We Went Back" at ICP
David "Chim" Seymour's highly anticipated exhibition at ICP, "We Went Back," opened last week, and Chim's nephew, Ben Shneiderman, said a few words to commence the event:
(Comments at the Opening of “We Went Back” at ICP by Ben Shneiderman on 1/16/2013)
I’m delighted to attend the opening of this new CHIM retrospective at ICP, which gives a deeper understanding of the life and work of my uncle David Seymour. I knew him as a warm loving uncle who brought me books on his visits to see my mother, who was his much loved older sister. His tragic death in 1956, when I was just 9, remains a vivid event in my life, in part because of the searing pain it brought to my parents and sister.
As I grew older and came to know CHIM’s work by way of my mother’s comments, I came to appreciate his contributions to the visual history of the 20th century and to shaping the emergence of modern photojournalism. My sister Helen Sarid and I appreciate CHIM’s distinctive empathy for his subjects that is apparent in many of the pictures in this exhibit, especially those of the war orphans – after all, he was one of them.
My mother devoted herself to preserving and promoting CHIM’s work, forming a warm partnership with Cornell Capa whose commitment to CHIM was nearly as strong as to his brother Robert. Just as CHIM and Robert Capa were partners, my mother and Cornell were partners. From their efforts, with many other devoted contributors, the Concerned Photography exhibit and then the ICP emerged as a leading force in photography and a major international cultural institution.
This remarkably fresh exhibit, diligently curated by Cynthia Young and her team, gives fresh insight to Chim’s work and its impact. They worked tirelessly for more than a year to scan vintage prints, document them, and then trace how those images were disseminated in the print media. The Internet enabled Cynthia’s team to track down publications and often to acquire copies for inclusion in the CHIM archives at ICP and in the exhibit. Cynthia tells the story clearly: “Chim was a keen observer of European political affairs, from the beginnings of the antifascist struggle to the rebuilding of countries ravaged by World War II …. Through his images of this period of radical upheaval, he emerges as a thoughtful reporter and a creator of elegant compositions of startling grace and beauty.”
Indeed, many photographers were influenced by CHIM’s work, and also by the gentle warmth and kindness that CHIM showed them. Elliott Erwitt named his son after David Seymour, Burt Glinn regularly told me how much CHIM’s encouragement influenced him, and the Magnum photographers gather round photos of CHIM and the other founders annually for their group photo.
Over the years, CHIM’s influence becomes stronger, as his iconic images are increasingly reprinted to tell contemporary stories. CHIM’s Spanish Civil War image of the nursing mother looking upwards becomes a modern Madonna; CHIM’s troubling portrait of Tereska scrawling a chalk image of her home reminds viewers of every war orphan; CHIM’s reflective portrait of Berenson in the Borghese Gallery shows mature wisdom; and CHIM’s perfect photo of a young Sophia Loren captures her allure. CHIM and his colleagues believed that photos could change the world, and occasionally they succeeded.
Please look through the exhibit carefully, and learn from Cynthia Young’s wall text and catalog. Maybe they will inspire you in your work and life, as they already have for many photographers, to produce “elegant compositions of startling grace and beauty.” That would make all this hard work worthwhile and it would be the best tribute to CHIM.