Herbert List, Self-Portrait, c. 1935
Born into a prosperous Hamburg merchant family, Herbert List (1903-1975) began in 1921 an apprenticeship at a Heidelberg coffee dealer and studied literature and art history at Heidelberg University. List entered the family coffee business in 1924 and traveled on its behalf throughout Brazil, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. List took his first photographs during these travels, as yet without any artistic pretensions. In 1929, he returned to Hamburg to run the company's daily affairs.
Herbert List, Master and Dog - Portofino - 1936
In Hamburg, he befriended the young photographer Andreas Feininger, the first son of Lyonel Feininger, and took his own place among the city's artistic and social avant-garde as a photographer. Feininger introduced him to the Rolleiflex, a more sophisticated camera facilitating deliberate composition of his images. Under the influence of the surrealist movement on one side and Bauhaus artists on the other, List starts to develop his own style.
Herbert List, Wrestling Boys #1 - Baltic Seas - 1933
List also became an acquaintance of the young English writer Stephen Spender, who was to draw upon him in creating the character Joachim in his autobiographical novel The Temple (written in 1929, but not published until 1988). The novel is about a young man who travels to Germany and finds a culture at once more open than England - particularly about relationships between men - and showing frightening anticipations of Nazism.
Herbert List, Germany is Marching - Paris [World Exhibition] - 1937
In his early photographs, List combined his love of the male figure with an experimental use of double exposure and a surrealist fascination with masks and draped fabric. The image of the adolescent boy remained a recurring subject throughout List's photographic career. His posthumously published book Junge Männer (Young Men), contains over seventy images of idyllic young men and boys lying in the sun, swimming, wrestling, or innocently staring into the camera's lens. These images beautifully combine eroticism with an avant-garde sensibility and a curious innocence.
Herbert List, Arab Boy with Desert Candles, 1935
In a photograph known as Ritti with Rod (below), a young boy is set against a clear sky, his crouching form holding a single metal pole. His blond hair hangs freely in a pose that brilliantly captures the spirit of the Jugendbewegung, a popular romantic, nature oriented, anti-bourgeois movement that would later be transformed and exploited by the Nazis.
Herbert List, Ritti with Rod, North Sea, Germany, 1933
In 1935, with the situation in Germany becoming unbearable, List handed the family business over to his brother and relocated to Paris, where he had his first photographic exhibition. Because of his Jewish family descent, List was not allowed to publish or work officially in Germany. The images created in Paris, notably his Female Slaves series (below) will be compared later to the paintings of Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico. List becomes the most prominent photographer representative of a style called fotografia metafisica. During the mid thirties, two other German emigrés in Paris, Hans Bellmer and Wols, also succesfully used the motif of mechanized dolls.
Herbert List, Female Slave II, 1936
From 1936 to 1940, working for Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, and Life as a photographer of celebrities, List traveled regularly between Greece, Italy, and Paris until the outbreak of World War II, when he settled in Greece to evade the German occupation of France. After the German army invaded Greece, List was forced to return to Germany. He settled in Munich, but in 1944, though part-Jewish and known as a homosexual, he was drafted into the military. He served as a map designer in Norway.
Herbert List, Goldfishbowl - Santorini - 1937
In 1951 Herbert List meets Robert Capa, who convinced him to work as a contributor to Magnum, but he rarely accepted assignments. In 1953, his book of photographs taken in Greece, Licht über Hellas, begun a decade before, was finally published. List completed several other book projects in the following years: Rome (1955), Caribia (1958), Nigeria (1961) and Napoli (1962) in collaboration with Vittorio de Sica.
Herbert List, Vittorio de Sica #1 - Naples - 1961
In the mid 60s List gradually lost interest in photography. His collection of Italian Old Master Drawings absorbed his full attention, involving numerous trips to collectors, museums and auctions mainly in Italy, London, Paris and New York. Herbert List died in Munich in 1975. You can see many more photos of List at the excellent webpage of the Herbert List Estate.