The myths of Apollo and Daphne, Echo and Narcissus, the Minotaur, all narrated in Ovid’s fundamental tales The Metamorphoses, appear as underlying themes in List’s remarkable photographs, less in subject matter than as a result of the photographer’s modus operandi of shooting friends and lovers. Spanning from 1933 to 1958, these black and white photographs also instantly recall the myth of Pygmalion, a Cypriot sculptor, who carved a statue out of ivory that he found so beautiful and realistic he fell in love with it. Imploring Aphrodite to give him a bride in similar shape and form to his newly-created artwork, Pygmalion returned to his studio to find out that his sculpture had been miraculously brought to life. Parallels between the sculptor and his model become beautifully apparent in one image from 1949, where Swiss painter and model Rolf Duerig gracefully poses in front of an imposing Roman bust. Elsewhere, taking centre stage in the exhibition, is ‘Young man with laurel over the eyes’, 1936, an image which almost symbolically reenacts Daphne’s transformation into a laurel tree.

Born in Hamburg in 1903, Herbert List left Germany in 1936 to seek refuge from the rise of Nazism. Living between Paris and Athens from 1937, he settled in the Greek capital following the outbreak of World War II. He travelled extensively to the Peloponnese and the islands, seeking a highly personalized yet antiquity-inspired modernist depiction of Greece. Atmospheric light, radical crops and expressive perspectives shaped List’s vision of Greek architecture, artworks and men. His vision of Greece consists of subjective imagery rich in subtext and sensuality. It allows the viewer to feel, taste, and bathe in the atmosphere of List’s personal encounter with the Mediterranean.

The works on view were previously exhibited at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA) in 2019 as part of the exhibition The Body Observed.

Please book your appointment to view the in-person exhibition in London here.

Press release

Greece, Athens, 1937, "Marble statue from Antikythera I" © Herbert List / Magnum Photos.

Male nude, Munich, Germany, 1958 © Herbert List / Magnum Photos.

“Like drawing, photography is the art of leaving out: one is made to stand for the many, the right detail for the whole, clear, concentrated form for profusion, and for a situation or action, the symbol. Less is almost invariably more.” Herbert List in 1943.

Greece, Plaster Cast, 1937 © Herbert List / Magnum Photos.

Germany, Wrestling Boys II, At the Baltic Sea, 1933 © Herbert List/Magnum Photos.

France, Theseus and Minotauros at the Tuileries, Paris, 1936 © Herbert List / Magnum Photos.

Germany, Munich, 1958 © Herbert List / Magnum Photos.

Greece, Athens, Theatre of Dionysus, Torso of a Silenus, 1937 © Herbert List/Magnum Photos

Peer-Olaf Richter of the Herbert List Estate reflects: "Crop, focus and especially lighting allow the viewer to get lost in the sensuality of the depicted subject matter. They ignite the possibility of life, resurrected from two-dimensional forms on paper. But unlike propaganda images of the human form or much of fashion photography of the 1930s, List's camera does not transform living bodies into statues.”

Germany, Munich, Academy of Arts. Michelangelo's Slave, damaged plaster cast. Winter 1945 / 1946 © Herbert List / Magnum Photos.

Amor 2, Tunisia, Hammamet, "Amor II", 1934 © Herbert List / Magnum Photos.

“A camera lens is not objective, otherwise as a medium it would be worthless. The lens and our eye see differently. Precisely these differences of perception make the lens a valuable means of artistic expression“ Herbert List - Photography as a Means of Artistic Expression

Greece or Italy, Torso of a young man, 1938 © Herbert List / Magnum Photos.

Italy, Liguria. 1936. "Good friends" © Herbert List / Magnum Photos.

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