List's fascination with capturing gay life in 2D is imbued with the romance of art and love. Metamorphoses marks List's first solo UK show in 5 years and recalls the glorious, yet tragic romance between men with the backdrop of roman sculpture: Call Me By Your Name. However, at List's time of working - nearly 40 years prior to when the famous film was set, the photographer's treatment of the male form was enacted under the shadow of the Second World War that he fled from in Germany. Also, as the gallery explains, this was a time that same-sex love was forbidden by law, yet List's work candidly celebrates his homosexuality.
Slippage between perceiving objects for pure aesthetic pleasure and capturing living desire in an image is a repeated theme in List's photography. In a time when aesthetic appreciation, but non-action was what the law permitted List treads the line thinly. Lighting in his images ignite the possibility of life rather than flattening the objects and models.
Peer-Olaf Richter of the Herbert List Estate reflects, “There is always a drop of water, a little bit of sweat, a slight imperfection that reminds us, viewers, to engage with the image and not simply adore it. We are looking at a person, not a type or a model. This desire to transform art into something living, as opposed to a human being into art, can be understood as a political statement when considered in the context of photography at this time.”