Born into a merchant family in Germany in 1903, after completing his education, and with the rise of power of the Nazis, Herbert List left Germany in the 1930s. He embarked on extensive travels through Greece and Italy, stopping in London and Paris in a search for his language of form between New Objectivity and Surrealism. Immersed in the classical architecture of Athens and the surrealists paintings of De Chirico and Max Ernst, List tenaciously produced works focused on form and composition. He used the Mediterranean light to transform mundane objects in to surreal compositions.
It was not until after the war upon meeting Henri Cartier-Bresson that isolated pictures gave way to photo-essays. He switched from a reflex camera (Rolleiflex) to a viewfinder camera (Leica) and was able to produce images of everyday life taken at a moments notice. He pursued the Magnum Founder's expression 'the decisive moment'.
One unifying subject, which List continued throughout his career, was the male form. Pre-empting the work of Mapplethorpe or Ritts, these images remained mostly private and unprinted until 1988 when it was recognised as an acceptable subject matter. These images' legacy continues today in the work of acclaimed advertising photographers including, Bruce Weber.
List's works have been exhibited globally including at The Encyclopedic Palace for the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 and are held in numerous museum collections including MOMA New York, SF MOMA and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.