April 2, 2013
by Herbert List
With the collaboration of Peer-Olaf Richter, director of the Herbert List Estate, Magnum Gallery present an exhibition of vintage photographs by Herbert List (1903–1975).
«This show at Magnum Gallery attempts an unexpected view on the work of acclaimed photo artist Herbert List, by showing unpublished images of his early years. At the time List started to work for Magnum in 1952 the style of his visual language was that of Human Interest photo essays depicting peoples life: On the street, at their work, or in their home. But the late close observer of people started his career quite differently.
List was a shy, almost introverted young men when he met Andreas Feininger in 1930 and was introduced to the Rolleiflex. Infected by the style of Bauhaus and New Objectivism they went picture hunting, frequently by night. List was fascinated by the way the world looked at night. It also might have corresponded with his streak for Romanticism. Therefore his early style stretches between the direct view of the object as it appears and the expressive and mysterious aesthetic aspects of the object in specific perspective or lighting conditions. He almost got lost in the world of objects and their shapes. At this time the only people he would observe with the lens closely and frequently intimately were friends.
It is here that he mastered the formal aspects of his art with images that seem to avoid depicting people. And if they appeared on the scene they look almost like anonymous extras or staffage. Some wear masks or are replaced by dummies, statues or plaster masks. List shows the life and world of things. He tried to document how they relate and talk to each other, by mastering the absence of the individual by its showing objects. Some of his most famous pictures spring from here: Sunglasses at Lake Lucerne, Bicycles at the Baltic Sea or a cigarette in a luminous ashtray.
The selection at the gallery shows an unusual selection of List photos. These early architectural or landscape images are ancestors to the master still life of Lists Fotografia Metafisica or his innovative visual exploration of antic Greece. They are cool and sometimes distant, expressive and sometimes mysterious. For sure they are an important piece to the puzzle of the oeuvre of this important artist.