Wednesday, April 3, 2013

We Went Back: Photographs from Europe 1933-1956 by Chim @ICP

JTF (just the facts): A total of 127 black and white and 8 color photographs, generally framed in black and matted, and hung against light grey and dark grey walls in a winding series of connected spaces on the main floor of the museum. The exhibit also includes 10 cases containing magazines/spreads, books, and other ephemera. For the most part, the works on view are vintage prints.The exhibit was curated by Cynthia Young. A catalog of the exhibit was recently published by Prestel (here). (Installation shots at right © International Center of Photography, 2013. Photographs by John Berens.)

The show is divided into titled sections. For each section below, I have tallied the number of images on view and listed other supporting materials.

(Entry)
10 gelatin silver prints, 1934-1937

France and the Popular Front
10 gelatin silver prints, 1935-1936
1 case containing 3 magazines/spreads, 1935-1936

The Spanish Civil War
23 gelatin silver prints, 1936-1939
1 wall of 32 Regards covers, 1935-1939
1 case containing 4 books, 1 magazine/spread, 1936-1938

We Went Back
6 gelatin silver prints, 1947
2 inkjet prints, 1947
1 case containing 4 magazines/spreads, 1947
1 case containing 3 images of Chim, 1 press card, 3 books, 1 image of Chim and Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1 exhibitor card, 1 museum card, 1 Polish ID card, 1 Henri Cartier-Bresson photo of Chim and Robert Capa, 1 press card, and 1 brochure
1 case containing 2 books of WWII aerials

The Children of Europe: A UNESCO Photo Story
30 gelatin silver prints, 1948
2 inkjet prints, 1948
1 case containing 2 magazines/spreads, 1 book, and 1 newspaper, 1948-1949

Postwar European Politics
13 gelatin silver prints, 1947-1956
1 inkjet print, 1947-1948
1 case containing 4 magazines/spreads, 1947-1948

Germany's Year of Destiny
7 gelatin silver prints, 1949
1 case containing 5 magazines/spreads, 1947-1949

Portraits
6 gelatin silver prints, 1950-1956
1 inkjet print, 1952

Italy
12 gelatin silver prints, 1949-1955
2 inkjet prints, 1952
1 case containing 9 magazines/spreads, 2 books, 1950-1956

Israel: The Early Years
19 gelatin silver prints, 1951-1954
2 inkjet prints, 1952
1 case containing 4 magazines/spreads, 1953-1954

The Suez Crisis
4 gelatin silver prints, 1956
1 case containing 2 magazines/spreads, 1956

(Table)
4 books
1 screen

Comments/Context: The ICP has stayed close to its photojournalism roots with this solid retrospective of the work of David (Chim) Seymour. Using a chronological structure, it traces his career over the period of roughly two decades, mixing various documentary and reportage projects with celebrity portraits and his well known images of children. It marks him as a consistently keen observer of political and social life, wherever his camera may have taken him.

The story begins in the early 1930s with Chim making photographs of political demonstrations and rallies in France, full of bull horns, raised fists, and painted signs. His images of the Spanish Civil War from a few years later generally avoid the pitch of battle, instead focusing on smaller visual vignettes of ordinary people. A nursing mother at a land reform meeting, a refugee girl with dolls, a young boy with a toy gun, a destroyed typewriter, each is a poignant backstory to the fighting. By the end of the decade and with World War II beginning, Chim left for New York and ended up making military aerial photographs for the next few years.

After the war ended, Chim went back to Europe (thus the title of the exhibit) and made images of the rebuilding efforts and the plight of its orphans. Groups of children play under the looming rusty hulk of Omaha Beach debris and solitary boys are found in bombed out buildings and perched on rubble piles. Smiling faces mix with apprehension and fear, whether in bunk rooms, hospitals, or unattended out in the fields. The wild chalkboard scrawls of a young girl drawing "home" is a particularly grim symbol of the turmoil and anguish faced by these kids.

Toward the end of the 1940s, Chim returned to political rallies and marches, covering the German elections of 1949 (and the parrot that said "Heil Hitler"). His work in the 1950s covered even broader territory. He took celebrity portraits of Ingrid Bergman and her newborn twins, Peggy Guggenheim and her dogs, and Bernard Berenson in the Borghese gallery, and captured smaller moments of Italian life, from the laundry line of the Swiss Guards to the bustle of Rome street markets. His last projects took him to Israel, where he documented kibbutz dancing, olive grove planting and border sirens, and finally to Egypt, where he was killed covering the Suez crisis.

This retrospective does its job - it deftly cements Chim's place among the important figures of photojournalism. For me, this show was a reminder of how photographs of conflict need not have the clashing action as their subject to be powerful. Chim's real talent lay in his ability to tell the larger political story via smaller details and personal moments, uncovering the emotional landscape of the human impact far removed from the front lines.

Collector's POV: Since this is a museum show, there are, of course, no posted prices. Chim's work has only been intermittently available in the secondary markets in recent years. Prices have ranged from roughly $1000 to $4000.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: New York Photo Review (here), Magnum Photos website (here)
 
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