Thursday, June 26, 2008

Herbert List (1903-1975)


The son of a wealthy German coffee merchant, Herbert List none-the-less pursued a career in photography. Before World War II he produced work for Harpers, Vogue, and Life magazines, and completed several tomes of photography after the war. Among these were, Licht Ueber Hellas (1953) and Caribia (1958). A known homosexual, and of Jewish descent, List escaped the Nazi war camps though he was not allowed to produce or publish his photography, being forced instead to enter the army and produce maps for the Nazi war effort.

Though List produced many photographic portraits of famous contemporaries both before and after World War II, surreal images of slightly clad German youths are his best-known photographs. However, to my mind his haunting images of war torn Munich are the most striking. List seems to have led a charmed life, first as a young, wealthy member of the pre World War II German avant-garde, then having escaped the Nazi juggernaut he was able to resurrect and recreate his photographic career following the war, and finally to become a wealthy collector of Italian Renaissance drawings at the end of his life.

List fits into both categories 1 and 2 of this study as proposed, having created (metaphysical/surreal) photographs that idealize the adolescent male body in addition to those portraits of famous persons, and works that can best be described as magnificent travelogue essays. His works of German youths are sexually charged yet transcend the physical in that they also embody (pun intended) the dream-like presence of all surreal artwork. Thus, List’s work demonstrates that gay men before our Postmodern times were interested in the relationship of their own sexuality to other aspects of their work and lives. Is List the lone exception or will I be able to find others whose artwork goes beyond preoccupation with the male body?*2


*1 Herbert List, “Ritti with Fishing Rod - Vietznau, Vierwaldstaettersee – 1937,” One time use Granted by the Estate of Herbert List and Max Scheler, Sunday, June 29, 2008, 16:51:52. The estate is represented by Magnum Photos, and Stephen Daiter Gallery, USA and Fahey Klein Gallery, USA.

*2 See the entry for Monday, November 17, 2007 for my thesis statement


List, Herbert. Junge Manner. Stephen Spender introduction. Max Scheler and Jack Woody, eds. Twin Palms: Altadina California (1988)

Gonzalez-Day, Ken, “Herbert List” in glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer Culture, Claude J. Summers editor. (2002) Viewed 7:06 A.M., EDT, Wednesday, June 25, 2008.

Herbert List Estate, Viewed 7:10 A.M. EDT, Wednesday, June 25, 2008.


Anonymous said...

“…created tombs of photography…” Tombs? Don’t you mean, tomes?

Dr. John Bittinger Klomp said...

Yes, I did, anonymous. Thank you so much for pointing that out.