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Sailors look through the viewfinders of their handheld cameras near a group of people standing in St. Peter’s Square.
American sailors visiting [Piazza] San Pietro. © David “Chim” Seymour, 1949. Published with permission.

Vatican City, Israel, and Other New Additions to the David “Chim” Seymour Photograph Collection

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The following is a guest post by Adam Silvia, Curator of Photography in the Prints & Photographs Division.

The Prints & Photographs Division is pleased to announce a gift of 173 additional photographs by the distinguished photojournalist David “Chim” Seymour. Donated to the Library of Congress by the photographer’s nephew, Ben Shneiderman, the pictures reflect Chim’s pioneering contributions to human interest reportage of the twentieth century. Together with the 237 photographs by Chim donated by Shneiderman in 2014, the David Seymour (CHIM) photograph collection at the Library of Congress constitutes an invaluable resource for biographical research on Chim and the broader study of photojournalism history.

Born David Szymin in Warsaw in 1911, “Chim,” as he preferred, documented the Spanish Civil War in the pages of Regards and other periodicals. Following the destruction of Europe in World War II and the murder of his parents in the Holocaust, he discovered a future for Europe, fragile but hopeful, in the faces of children in Austria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, and Poland while photographing for UNESCO. In the late 1940s, he gravitated back to Italy, enchanted by its vibrant culture. There, he photographed “Hollywood on the Tiber,” creating intimate portraits of stars of the stage and the screen, like Valentina Cortese, Sofia (Sophia) Loren, Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman. Finally, he found joy in Israel, uniting with his cousins in Tel Aviv in 1951 and capturing jovial scenes across the young nation, such as children playing in a pile of newly harvested cotton and revelers attending a wedding banquet.

A smiling woman sits with a group of children while holding a child on her lap.
Lieut. Magda Nagy, 23, a Budapest policewoman visits the policewomen’s home for girls near Budapest. © David “Chim” Seymour, 1948. Published with permission.
Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman playfully pose with their three children in a room.
Ingrid Bergman, Roberto Rossellini and their Children, Rome. © David “Chim” Seymour, 1956. Published with permission.
A small group of young people sit on and lie within a large pile of raw cotton while others stand behind them.
Cotton pickers, Israel. © David “Chim” Seymour, 1953. Published with permission.
People sit close together at long tables in a large room.
Wedding feast, Israel. © David “Chim” Seymour, ca. 1951-1954. Published with permission.

Chim dedicated ten weeks in 1949 to photographing Vatican City, and 90 of the 173 recently donated photographs are from this project. As noted by his biographer, Carole Naggar, Chim was long fascinated by ancient religious practices and the arcane (Naggar, David “Chim” Seymour: Searching for the Light, 1911-1956, page 169). What stands out in the photographs, however, are not the hallowed treasures of antiquity (although present!) but instead the abundance of youthful smiles, modern technology and artists depicted in the act of restoring and creating.

A man stands on scaffolding to repair a mural in the Vatican Museum
Repairs being made to one of the Raphael murals in the Vatican Museum, Vatican City. © David “Chim” Seymour, 1949. Published with permission.

Through the eyes of Chim, the Vatican was dynamic and lively, not unlike the children of post-war Europe and the young nation of Israel. Chim photographed a Vatican gardener, one of twelve, tending to a cactus planted among the city’s 50 acres of green space (Ann Carnahan with David Seymour, The Vatican: Behind the Scenes in the Holy City, pages 108-109). He also captured a playful scene in which the housekeeper of Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini lovingly cradles the future pope’s favorite cat, presenting her to the camera. Even in the Sistine Chapel, Chim’s lens was magnetically drawn to the faces of Italian schoolchildren, the future of Italy, gazing in wonder upon the fresco paintings of Michelangelo left outside of the frame.

A man in coveralls inspects the pads of a cactus near other succulent plants.
Tossici Ricardo, Vatican’s gardener. © David “Chim” Seymour, 1949. Published with permission.
A woman holds a cat in her arms in front of a building. St. Peter’s Dome rises in the distance.
Housekeeper with the favorite cat of Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, Vatican City. © David “Chim” Seymour, 1949. Published with permission.
A woman and two boys sit on a bench and gaze upward.
Visitors admiring Sistine Chapel. © David “Chim” Seymour, 1949. Published with permission.

In the company of journalist Ann Carnahan, Chim ventured to the southwest corner of the city, where he photographed the steel-lace towers of Vatican Radio Station HVJ. Established in 1931 by the Italian engineer and inventor Guglielmo Marconi, the station, says Carnahan, “is modern to the very last detail and it has the powerful transmitters necessary to carry the voice of commissions of the Holy Father over the earth” (Carnahan with Seymour, The Vatican, page 183). The radio tower in the foreground of Chim’s photograph pierces the frame on its climb to the heavens, up and out of view. Another photograph, taken inside the communication center of Station HVJ, shows a man sitting in front of an assortment of boxy machines and instruments, controlled by various knobs and switches, with a portrait of Pope Pius XII in traditional regalia situated above.

Radio towers rise next to a wall and a stand of trees. The buildings of a city stretch out in the background.
Radio towers of Vatican Radio Station HVJ, Vatican City. © David “Chim” Seymour, 1949. Published with permission.

A man wears headphones while using a typewriter near a shelf of audio equipment below a portrait of Pope Pius XII.
Italy [Vatican City]. Radio communication center links between Rome [Vatican City] and the world. © David “Chim” Seymour, 1949. Published with permission.
Finally, through his photographs, Chim emphasized the ubiquity of another technology: photography. During Mass, he photographed enthusiastic choir boys pulling out their cameras to sneak pictures of Pope Pius XII. In St. Peter’s Square, he captured images of visiting pilgrims, priests and tourists, cameras in hand, happily snapping away.

Photo of French choir boys taking pictures of Pope A group of men in robes stand together in a room facing the same direction. Some look through viewfinders of handheld cameras.ius XII during Mass, Vatican City
French choir boys taking pictures of Pope Pius XII during Mass, Vatican City. © David “Chim” Seymour, 1949. Published with permission.

It is with the same level of excitement that we welcome this expansion of the David Seymour (CHIM) photograph collection. In addition to Vatican City, the children of Europe, the Second Arab-Israeli War, and celebrity portraiture, the collection offers photography of the Spanish Civil War, the Popular Front in France and the Third Greek Civil War, among other subjects, with more to come! You are invited to see the world through the lens of this extraordinary photographer.

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