In 1948, David ‘Chim’ Seymour set in motion visual form of emotional empathy by documenting children scarred by the War in a UNICEF project. He travelled across Europe, took a pay cut, spent 257 rolls of film and came out with images that revealed his unique capacity to awaken the public’s conscience to war’s most vulnerable victims.
In this collection, some of the most iconic Magnum Photographers, dating from the early years of the photo agency right up to the present day, share their most empathetic image, inspired by the work of David ‘Chim’ Seymour.
“I do not believe in empathy in photography, unapologetic or otherwise. I believe in sharp observation, always, and in confrontation with my subjects, sometimes. Although I never felt close to the work of Chim, nonetheless I admired his engagement and appreciated the empathy with which he photographed his subjects. There is more than empathy between this beggar in Rishikesh, India and the calf he is cradling like his own baby. There is love and compassion. The beggar, paralyzed in both legs, spends half of the alms he receives to feed the calf whom he has raised since it was born. The calf is growing up and will soon be a cow, no doubt a sacred one, like the tree behind them.” — Abbas
Qikiqtarjuaq, Canada. 2004 © Jonas Bendiksen / Magnum Photos
“I took this picture in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, a small village in Northern Canada. At the time, in 2004, I was on a photography assignment for a German magazine. While the location itself was magnificent, a surreal piece of urbanity dropped into vast white wilderness, the story the magazine was running was quite dark. Along with a journalist, I had been sent to try to understand the community’s many social issues. Different generations were struggling to understand one another, as the emergence of the Internet, TV, substance abuse and general feelings of isolation challenged traditional practices such as hunting and fishing. During the two weeks I was there, I struggled with my role as a complete outsider, as I had been sent to observe what felt like very private matters. At the same time, I was enamored as I watched the rituals of daily life unfold amidst all the stark and awesome beauty around us.”
— Jonas Bendiksen
Michael Christopher Brown
“Though much of my work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo depicts dire circumstances, I remain optimistic for the country; it is not only one of the most beautiful places, but also filled with incredible people.”
– Michael Christopher Brow
Gen X boy, Gunnar Moe. Norway. 1951. © Robert Capa / International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos
“Twenty-three year old Gunnar Moe has made his world a big one. He has had only seven years of schooling, but he is extremely well informed, politically aware and conscientious. He believes that the future of Norway is industrial, through development of natural resources, and hopes for an eventual Scandinavian Union. He is confident that the world tension will ease—through negotiation, never war. Though the task is huge, he believes in the United Nations, call it “the world’s biggest chance if sincerity and honesty are allowed to rule negotiations.” Gunner feels no resentment over his military service, believing it to be his own contribution to peace. “As for me, I can help now as anyone can help—simply as being an active and informed citizen.”
– Robert Capa, from Holiday magazine, March 1953
– Robert Capa
A Premature Obituary for An Insomniac Man. Cambodia. 2007 © Sohrab Hura / Magnum Photos
“His eyes, flowing out of their sockets, barely held on to the last threads of his veins. He had not slept the last twenty years and it was almost as if time had pillaged everything in its passing and had left him a pauper. What had once been a beautiful face now resembled nothing more than a dirty old sinkhole, ready to devour everything around him into its vortex. He should have shut his big stone eyes or else time would have surely ripped out the last of them. But in his drunken stupor all that mattered was for him to reach the edge of the world one last time. It had not stopped him for half his life, so why should it do so now. The clock had now started to tick again and with it his face had started to melt again. An eye had already turned to dust and his jaw was now starting to crumble. Helpless and unable to hold onto him, I took out my camera and made one last photograph of the insomniac man, standing at the edge of the world. ‘A Premature Obituary for An Insomniac Man. Cambodia. 2007.’”
– Sohrab Hura
Chiang Mai, Thailand © Steve McCurry / Magnum Photos
“I photographed these elephants and their mahouts at a rescue sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The mahouts dedicate their lives to caring for a specific elephant, spending their days and nights tending to all of the elephant’s needs.”
– McCurry, Steve
Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits. Reno, Nevada. 1960 © Inge Morath / Magnum Photos
“In an interview with director Gail Levin for her documentary, Making ‘The Misfits’ (2002), Morath recalled the difficulty of photographing actors such as Monroe, who ‘knew all the tricks about how to pose.’ The photographer’s task was to capture how they worked, the element of surprise that they delivered to a scene, without getting in the way. What she wanted, Morath told Levin, was to photograph ‘the unposed person,’ so she watched and waited for the actor to expose his or her vulnerability.”
– John P. Jacob, Inge Morath: On Style, Abrams, 2016
Paris © Gueorgui Pinkhassov / Magnum Photos
“I chose this photograph simply because it touches me in some way. I’m not sure why, exactly. Nothing in particular is going on here. A street scene in the Latin Quarter in Paris, that’s all. But it’s possible that, like me, someone else might feel touched by it as well. By its warmth, proportions, overall harmony. But what does this have to do with the stated theme, ‘Empathy’?
We were asked to select an image that relates to compassion. I have quite a few photographs that are capable of eliciting empathy. But I decided to choose this light-filled one. I think that beauty will make a person kinder more quickly than admonitions.
Empathy is that rare point of intersection between ethics and aesthetics. Something that all the great humanists eventually arrive at. ‘That which is aesthetically perfect is ethically noble.’ Or, as Dostoyevsky so aptly put it: ‘Beauty will save the world.’”
– Gueorgui Pinkhassov
Audrey Hepburn. Paris, France. 1956. © David Seymour / Magnum Photos
“David Seymour (Chim), one of Magnum Photos’ four founders, was a legendary photojournalist who produced some of the most memorable images of the 20th century. He was especially skilled at building a close enough connection with his subjects to elicit their participation and empathy. His Children of War project, commissioned by UNESCO in 1948, brought to light World War II orphans who struggled to cope with their injuries and limited resources. They are powerful images that remain vivid reminders of our need to help refugees and others who have suffered in natural or human-made crisis’.
Chim’s capacity to connect with people, and indeed humanize them, also translated to Hollywood superstars such as Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas, Gina Lollobrigida, Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn. This tranquil moment shows Audrey Hepburn in deep concentration at a ballet studio. Chim captured her quiet intensity, self-confidence and graceful composure.”
– Ben Shneiderman, nephew of David Seymour
“When I take a camera in my hand, the world around me slows down. As do I. I love to work slowly, to have time. People, in an event like the one in this picture, will start to trust me in this way, which allows me to blend in.
For this image, I hung around at a religious gathering for hours. After a while, I stopped getting noticed. I feel comfortable working in this way.”
– Newsha Tavakolian
Kochi, India, 2014 © Alec Webb / Magnum Photos
“Connection in photography can take many forms. While one typically thinks of the connection in photographing people one knows, there can also be a kind of intimacy with a place or a culture itself. As a street photographer, it is this latter connection that intrigues me. Over the years, I’ve learned that each culture demands its own unique and complicated approach—often with many nuanced variations—in order to photograph the life of its streets. For instance in Mumbai, people sometimes seem so interested in strangers, one may later discover smiling faces peering into the edges of one’s photographs. However, in a city such as Kochi in southern India where I took this photograph, one may also encounter unexpected quieter moments.
Ultimately, no matter how gently and respectfully one tries to photograph in a culture other than one’s own, how long a street photographer can linger is largely thanks to the grace of others.”
– Alex Webb
Copyright Raghu Rai / Magnum Photos
Ayodhya: a holy city of Hindus to many. Under Emperor Babur, in the early 16th century, the Mughals destroyed a structure marking the birthplace of Lord Rama. They built the Babri Mosque in its place. Over the centuries some part of this mosque survived.
On December 6th, 1992, some Hindu organizations demolished the remaining structure of the mosque to reclaim the birthplace of Lord Rama. This demolition enraged other Hindus as well as Muslims in the community, and caused an outburst of unexpected violence. Several hundred people died and properties were destroyed.
Strangely enough, the day before the demolition of the Babri Mosque, when I took this photograph, there was a tangible sensation of harmony and tranquility in the air. This image reflects the spirit of warmth and interaction on that winter morning in the temple complex, where activities were peaceful and normal. As the morning hours of the day unfolded, even the monkeys were entwined with the human activities.”
Magnum’s ‘Conditions of the Heart: on empathy and connection in photography’ square print sale runs from Monday 31 October 2016 at 8AM EST until Friday, 4 November 2016 at 6PM EST. Signed and estate stamped, museum quality, 6×6” prints from over 70 artists for $100 for 5 days only from shop.magnumphotos.com.