EXHIBITION | Herbert List


Octopus, Ionian island of Corfu, Greece, 1938 © Herbert List / Magnum Photos


100 works by Herbert List 

A co-production The Herbert List Estate and Magnum Photos in collaboration with
Silvana Editoriale and Fotografia Europea.

times and locations

Chiostri di San Domenico
via Dante Alighieri, 11
42121 Reggio Emilia

friday 2nd may open from 6.30 pm to midnight; saturday 3rd and sunday 4th may from 10 am to midnight; from 7th may to 15th june open on saturday from 10 am to 11 pm, sunday from 10 am to 9 pm; From 21st June to 27 July: Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 1 pm and from 4 pm to 10 pm


At the age of 70, looking back on his career as a photographer Herbert List said that he aimed but “not always succeeded in portraying things so that their underlying meaning would reveal itself.” The most successful attempts were those in which he grasped the magic of the situation in passing. These transient qualities of capturing a moment en passant and grasping its vanishing meaning at that right magical moment characterize his best images. “Such pictures radiate an aura that logic or aesthetics cannot explain. “
This selection of 100 works sheds some light on the elusive oeuvre of the German photographer and why it is so hard to categorize his work. He would work in almost every genre that photography has to offer: Architecture, still life, street-photography, portraiture, documentation and cataloguing. Yet he also blurred the demarkation between those fields: Architectural shots seem like composed still lifes or surreal compositions. Documentation of Greek sculptures or African artifacts borders on portraiture; and when capturing the classical beauty of the male physique, one does not quite know if we look at painstakingly composed arrangements or a private photo-diary, shot spontaneously from the hip.
With this show we invite the viewer to discover List’s multifaceted work, by exploring many masterpieces and some lesser known work side by side. The result is a visual journey leading from enigmatic night shots, surreal and dark compositions, to the mediterranean sunlight on the bodies of young men and the ruins of ancient Greece. Continuing through a gallery of 20th century artists we end with List’s s visual declaration of love to Italy and its celebration of the eternal beauty of life.


Born into a prosperous merchant family, Herbert List begins studying literature and art history and takes photographs, without any pretensions to art. In 1930 though, he meets Bauhaus-photographer Andreas Feininger, who introduces him to the Rolleiflex camera. Under the influence of Bauhaus artists and Surrealism List soon develops his own visual language of a Magic Realism.
With his 1936 departure from Nazi-Germany he briefly has to turn his hobby into a profession. Working in Paris and London for “Harper’s Bazaar” he is dissatisfied with the challenges of fashion photography. List instead focuses on his project Fotografia Metafisica composing still lifes, similar to paintings of Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico.
Less than a year later Greece and Italy are List’s main interest, Athens his temporary home, where he hopes to escape the war. Visiting antique temples, sculptures and landscapes with his camera, he also creates a photo diary of mediterranean life including his now famous images of young men. With an eye of a poet, he photographs artists of his time, from Picasso to Morandi, Magnani to Dietrich.
After the war List meets Robert Capa, and decides to work for the photo-cooperative Magnum. He discovers the 35mm camera and his work becomes more spontaneous and is influenced by his Magnum colleague Henri Cartier-Bresson and Italian Neo-Realism. After 1965 he looses interest in photography, but today his images can be found in the major photographic collections of the world.