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Herbert List: Young Men & Still Lifes written by Marigold Warner (British Journal of Photography)

The German photographer’s diaristic images of friends and found objects go on show in Los Angeles

Before Herbert List (1903-1975) became a photographer, he was training to work in the coffee industry. While studying literature and art history at Heidelberg University, Germany, List was also an apprentice for a coffee distributor, and began to make his first photographs on business trips.

There were two key encounters in List’s life that helped elevate the photographer to his now-legendary status. The first was in 1930, when he met Andreas Feininger. The prolific French Bauhaus photographer introduced him to the Rollieflex, a camera that allowed for the deliberate compositions for which List is now known. The second was meeting Robert Capa in 1951, who persuaded List to join Magnum Photos.

List described his images as “composed visions where [my] arrangements try to capture the magical essence inhabiting and animating the world of appearances”. Half a century later, his classic compositions came to influence the fashion and lifestyle photography of masters like Bruce Weber and Herb Ritts, and thanks to a monograph published in 2000, interest in his work has seen a revival since the turn of the century. Now, for the first time in 25 years, an exhibition of 40 photographs, taken between 1933 and 1952, will open in Los Angeles.

List was born into a prosperous merchant family, but life was not easy for an openly gay Jewish man in 1930s Germany. In response to the danger of Nazi police attention, List fled to Paris in 1936, where he worked as a fashion photographer. In 1937 he moved to Greece, which became his primary subject for several years, but, in 1941, while he was working in Athens, List was forced to return to Germany by invading troops, and was forbidden to publish or work until the dissolution of Nazi rule in 1945.

After the end of the war, List turned his attention towards Italy, where he captured street scenes, created contemplative photo essays, and shot architectural views. The exhibited work illustrates the photographer’s masterful eye for composition, and candid but austere style.

Herbert List, Young Men & Still Lifes is on show at Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles, US,  from 27 June until 31 August 2019