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Galleria Campari / Magnum Photos : Bar Stories on Camera


The combination of a rich archive such as the Galleria Campari Historical Archive, with the images of 24 photographers of the Magnum Photos agency, produces a quite interesting result: a kind of photographic “mix” which, thanks to 90 images from the 1930s to the early 2000s, provides a very effective introduction to the world of the bar. Bar Stories on Camera. Galleria Campari / Magnum Photos presents a look at narratives, rituals and characters from Italy and around the world.

The exhibition is divided into four sections: Sharing Moments, the first section, features bar scenes, with photographs from both the Galleria Campari Archives and Magnum Photos. It shows the ritual of the aperitif and that of the coffee, offering some reflections on convivial situations or the solitary reading of a newspaper near a coffee table; one can also almost enjoy the taste of a cocktail… Then, there are baristas, bartenders, musicians, waiters and guests.

Paolo Cavallo, Director of the Galleria Campari, says, “The exhibition aims to show the world of the bar through a photographic excursus. There are 48 images from the Galleria Campari Historical Archive, which are of a more functional and commercial nature. They had a practical purpose, such as verifying the positioning of store signs, but at the same time, they documented the bar as a world of aggregation. In the exhibition, these images dialogue with 42 images by Magnum Photos photographers, obviously authorial photos, born with different purposes and representing the bar world as seen through the eye of great international photographers”.

Another way of capturing those leisure moments coupled with salient social moments that take place at the bar, which can be both a private context and a shared, collective and public space.

“The cafés are not entirely unconnected to the origins of Magnum”, Ludovica Pellegatta, Partnerships Director at Magnum Photos, explains. “The idea for Magnum, founded in late 1947, came from the founding photographers’ frequentation of the Café Du Dome in Montparnasse, one of the most iconic cafés in 1930s Paris. The name Magnum refers both to the bottle so named and to the Latin word for ‘greatness’. Indeed, the bar was (and in many ways still is) a place where political cultural, artistic and social ideas are exchanged. On display, there are photographs (from the 1930s, before the agency was founded, to the early 2000s) by 24 Magnum photographers”, including Robert Capa, Eve Arnold, Elliott Erwitt, David Hurn, Martin Parr and Ferdinando Scianna, to name a few.

If the first ‘bartenders’ date back to Roman times, with the tabernae; the 17th century was the time for coffee, the new beverage that also carried with it the name of the place where it was served. A practice that, according to tradition, spread first to Venice, the centre of trade with the East, and then to other European countries. Many artistic, literary and political movements had their origins in historic cafés. As for the name” bar”, the most accepted hypothesis is a derivation from the English homonym word, because the bartender is separated by a table that divides the serving and drinking environment: the bar, writes Fulvio Piccinino in Una storia, tante storie. Il mondo del bar attraverso i secoli. Instead, the custom of serving cocktails began in the 19th century in the United States, where the fashion for ‘mixed drinks’, as they were called, was to revolutionize the world of drinking, both in the United States and in Europe.

The collection of images from the Galleria Campari Archives and the shots of the Magnum photographers explores the theme through the lens of time. Through a dialogue between various media, supports and imagery, the multifaceted vitality of the bar world is portrayed, in an exploration of its social connotations as a place of meeting, aggregation, leisure and cultural exchange.

The second section, Bar Campari, presents a series of historical images from the Galleria Campari Historical Archive dedicated to the Campari bars in their many forms: even bars on Italian beaches or boats. The third one, The Icons, features images from Magnum Photos with both everyday and extraordinary images of celebrities at the bar, highlighting the role of cafés in cultural life. This section also includes Magnum photographers’ images of iconic establishments, symbols of an era: from Milan’s Camparino in Galleria to the bar at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.

The last section displays three-dimensional elements, from vintage recipe books, cocktail compendia and ephemera related to the bar. At the Galleria Campari, the corporate museum of Campari (since 1860 the company has been and still is as the Campari Group, a major player in the spirit industry and one of the first companies to bet on the synergy between production, product and art) some key texts in the history of mixing, such as the Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide (1887), mixing tools and vintage advertising objects, most of them signed by artists like the futurist Fortunato Depero, are on show.

Bar Stories on Camera. Galleria Campari / Magnum Photos, curated by Galleria Campari is the first exhibition to be staged by Galleria Campari in partnership with Magnum Photos.

Paola Sammartano


Galleria Campari / Magnum Photos
4 October 2023 – 30 April 2024
Galleria Campari
Viale Antonio Gramsci 161,
20099 Sesto S. Giovanni – Milan

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