contemporary art

Not the city of love: Paris in the photographs of Herbert List

If you are
looking for something rather enigmatic in the search for the spring time, you
came to the right place. Herbert List’s vision of Paris in 1930’s is as mesmerizing,
as puzzling. There are no smiling couples and streets full of velvet verdure;
only an empty, foggy city that seems to enjoy its solitude.

Half-Jewish photographer was born in Germany
and was not hiding his orientation and bourgeois lifestyle.  Of course, it was just a matter of time for
the Nazi party and the Gestapo to take notice. Lots of his friends had already
left the Germany and eventually, he decided to do the same. With his friend and
partner, Heinz Rittmeister, List escaped to the Switzerland and then to Italy. His
trip was filled with sun and an excitement for the upcoming new life. Herbert
List followed advice of his friends and decided to settle down in Paris. And
exactly at this place the reality had overtaken him; being an immigrant at such
uneasy times was defiantly not some dolce vita. Though he was close with a
great deal of Parisian artistic elite, the financial situation was not a beneficial
one; List tried to do some commissioned fashion shoots but was not satisfied
with the outcome.

This personal journey definitely gained a
reflection in his Parisian works. One of the most romantic cities of the world
seems cold and uninviting; monumental architecture sharpens the feeling of individual
insignificance. Gloomy atmosphere rather refers to the times of Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris and Gothic aesthetics.

Dark undertones and emptiness reflected not
only List’s personal experiences. These were the years of Nazi’s rise in
Germany and the whole Europe seemed to be taken by a silent premonition of danger.
The collective unconsciousness was aware of the upcoming disaster that would
change humanity forever. The cities were awaiting for the future to come, including
Paris, the city of light, the city of love.

Although Herbert List’s oeuvre is quite complex
structure; he succeeded in many different styles and spheres of photography.
But particularly this Parisian series opened up a path for a darker visual
language in the art of photography. A bit surreal, these images are so
convincing in their simplicity, that there is only one thing left to do – to quote
the master himself “…Photography the art of leaving out, the one is made to
stand for the many, right detail for the whole, clear, concentrated form for
profusion… Less is almost invariably more.”

Images are taken from Magnum Photos website 

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