When Herbert List fell in love with Greece

GREECE. 1937. Cyclades. Santorini. Plaster masks.
“The pictures I took spontaneously – with a bliss-like sensation, as if they had long inhabited my unconscious – were often more powerful than those I had painstakingly composed. I grasped their magic as in passing” said Herbert List, a man who captured beauty like no other. List was a classically educated artist who combined a love of photography with a fascination for surrealism and classicism. Born into a prosperous Hamburg merchant family, List began an apprenticeship at a Heidelberg coffee dealer in 1921 while studying literature and art history at Heidelberg University. During travels for the coffee business between 1924-28, the young List began to take photographs, almost without any pretensions to art.
GREECE. Athens. Circa 1938. National Museum. Classical head of a youth.
GREECE. Athens. The Acropolis. Parthenon portico. 1937.

In 1930, though, his artistic leanings and connections to the European avant-garde brought him together with the photographer Andreas Feininger, who introduced his new friend to the Rolleiflex, a more sophisticated camera that allowed a deliberate composition of images. Under the dual influence of the surrealist movement on the one hand, and of Bauhaus artists on the other, List photographed still life and his friends, developing his own style.

He has described his images as “composed visions where [my] arrangements try to capture the magical essence inhabiting and animating the world of appearances.” It was the years following his departure from Germany in 1936 for political and personal reasons, that List turned his hobby into a profession. Working in Paris and London, he met George Hoyningen-Huene, who referred him to “Harper’s Bazaar”.
GREECE. Athens. The Acropolis. Parthenon interior. 1937.
GREECE. Athens. Temple of Olympian Zeus. 1937.
 Greece became List’s main interest from 1937 to 1939. After his first visit to the antique temples, sculptures and landscapes, his first solo show opened in Paris in the summer of 1937. Publications in “Life”, “Photographie”, “Verve” and “Harper’s Bazaar” followed, and List began work on his first book, Licht Uber Hellas, which wasn’t published until 1953.
Working in Athens, List hoped to escape the war but was forced by invading troops to return to Germany in 1941. Because of his Jewish background, he was forbidden to publish or work officially in Germany. Several works, stored in a hotel in Paris, have been lost. The iconic photographer and artist had a special affinity throughout his life with Greece. The impressions of the Mediterranean that List recorded during his travels are a mosaic of past and present, art and life. An eclectic mixture of photography and thought that was inspired by Greece’s eternal beauty.
GREECE. Attica. Near Sounion. 1937. “Taverna by the sea”.
GREECE. Cyclades. Island of Naxos. 1937. “Youths”.
All images via Magnum Photos, from the book “Licht über Hellas, Herbert List”. Published by Verlag Georg D.W. Callwey, Munich, 1953 © Herbert List/Magnum Photos

Article via LuisaWorld


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