Chim-The Photographs of David Seymour
1911-Chim  1933-Paris  1936-Spain  1947-Germany  1948-UNESCO  1950-Italy  1952-Portraits  1954-Greece  1956-Israel
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1936 - The Spanish Civil War



Drawing by Carlo Levi


Chim greeting Henri Cartier-Bresson. Paris, 1937. Photographer unknown.
1996 from the Estate of David Seymour


Land distribution meeting. Estremadura, Spain, 1936
1996 from the Estate of David Seymour


Picasso in front of his picture, Guernica at its unveiling at the Spanish Pavilion of the World’s Fair. Paris, 1937
1996 from the Estate of David Seymour


Troops wearing gas masks during airraids. Barcelona, 1936
1996 from the Estate of David Seymour


As soldiers crossed the border at Le Perthus, they were required to hand over their weapons before entering France. The arms were later given to General Franco. 1939
1996 from the Estate of David Seymour

In February of 1935, the five-year-old Spanish Republic voted in a Popular Front government by a small majority, similar in concept to the coalition then electioneering in France. French conservatives worried how this new government would deal with the issues confronting it; they feared developments in Spain would affect their own fate under a Popular Front regime.

"Our Special Correspondent Chim" was sent to Spain by Regards to report on crucial issues there. He found that the problems of Spain were unique to that country, shaped by its own history and tradition. He also found the country divided and passionate in its differences.

Land distribution was one of the most pressing problems on the agenda of the Spanish Popular Front. Especially in the south and southwest, absentees owned almost all the land. There, the landless farmers were virtually indentured. Chim traveled to the impoverished province of Estremadura, where sixty thousand peasants had occupied fallow lands.

In July 1936, when the officer corps instituted a widespread coup, the elected government immediately appealed for help to its brother Front Populaire under Leon Blum. But France was allied with England, whose leaders feared intervention would provoke yet another world conflagration. Against his better judgment, Leon Blum joined England in a non-intervention pact. As head of the insurgents who had engineered the coup against the Spanish government, Colonel Francisco Franco immediately appealed to fascist Germany and Italy for help. They sent massive supplies of troops and materials. The Soviet Union feigned neutrality, but sent experienced soldiers and, in exchange for Spanish gold, outdated military equipment.

The Republican forces were made up of the general population of agricultural and urban workers. Untrained as soldiers, they did their best with World War I guns and rifles, and whatever the government was able to buy from arms smugglers in Paris. Enthusiasm for the cause was the only commodity running high. Idealistic young men from many countries traveled to Spain to fight in the International Brigades.

Chim returned to Spain in August 1936, a month after the outbreak of war, and proceeded to the front in the foothills near the Spanish city of Irun, where he immediately saw action. Andre, now bylined Robert Capa, and his photographer girlfriend, Gerta Taro, had arrived in Spain and were photographing where the action was hottest. Chim was now obliged to wear glasses, which made him vulnerable, even useless, in action. He therefore concentrated on exclusive stories telling the world about the defenses that backed up the Republican cause. Together, they formed a perfect team: what Capa and Taro contributed in passion at the front, Chim made up in thoughtfulness and compassion behind the scenes. On highly secret missions, which required both trustworthiness and discretion, Chim photographed munitions and aircraft factories. He photographed parts of Republican Spain not yet under fire, but strategically important and bound to be attacked soon, as indeed they were: vital Catalan factories, Basque fishing boats, Basque soldiers enjoying moral support from monks at the Monastery of Amorabita and attending an outdoor mass before going into battle, and priests providing the rites of burial within the church.

When Chim returned to Asturias, to the much admired miners he had visited before the war, Regards headlines announced "World Wide Scoop, Sensational Photographs! CHIM with the miners in the trenches under Oviedo."

Capa was in Paris when news came that Gerta Taro had been accidentally killed in Spain. She was twenty-six years old. The sympathetic press, which was attended by thousands, turned her funeral into a political event. This time the cause was solidarity with Republican Spain.

Chim was now well aware of the divisiveness among Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, and Trotskyites who made up the Republican forces. On the insurgent's side, German and Italian troops, with their advanced weapons and many airplanes, had reduced the chances of victory for Republican Spain. Barcelona was bombed regularly. Chim's essay on that city appeared in LIFE Magazine in New York. After the retreat on the Ebro river in December, 1938, Nationalist forces pressed on into Catalonia. Citizens and soldiers now fled toward France.

By mid-May the war was over; Republican Spain was defeated. It was the end of an era, not only for Chim, but for all Europeans, and Americans, though they did not know it yet the end of Europe's noble effort to become a continent of democracies.

Chim was now twenty-eight years old. The five years in France and Spain had been his formative years, not only as a photographer, but emotionally and intellectually.

Chim was now a thoroughly seasoned photojournalist. Twenty- five of his stories on Spain had been published in Regards. Far from his editors in Paris, he had had the opportunity to pick his own story ideas and provide the necessary text for them.

- Inge Bondi

1996, Inge Bondi
from CHIM: The Photographs of David Seymour, Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown and Company

1911-Chim  1933-Paris  1936-Spain  1947-Germany  1948-UNESCO  1950-Italy  1952-Portraits  1954-Greece  1956-Israel
ICP CHIM Home Credits