Arts & Culture

An Ode to Café Culture with Campari

A new exhibition in Milan titled "Bar Stories on Camera" takes us on a trip through the past to celebrate café culture around the world.

Rome, Italy, 1949. © Herbert List / Magnum Photos

During the 1930s, the Café du Dome located on Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris was one of the liveliest bars of the Left Bank. It was more than a bar, it was a meeting place for artists, painters, writers, politicians of the Popular Front, and many more. Alongside Les Deux Magots on Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Café de Flore only a few steps away, these were places where individuals or groups would gather for lively debate and the exchange of ideas — political, philosophical, and cultural. Above all, they were places of community.

It was at the Café du Dome that Robert Capa met Henri Cartier–Bresson and David ‘Chim’ Seymour, and where they continued to meet after spending their days covering the rise of the Front populaire in Paris during those years. Like many artistic, philosophical or political movements born from the Parisian café culture, Magnum’s origins too lead back to the crowded tables and buzz of conversation from these spaces.

St. Peter's Square, Rome, Italy, 1953. © George Rodger / Magnum Photos

And it is in a new exhibition in Milan, organized in collaboration with Galleria Campari and titled “Bar Stories on Camera” that we take a trip through the past to revisit — and celebrate — the act of gathering, discussing, listening and sharing in bars and cafés around the world from the 1930s to present day. The exhibition features a total of 90 images, 42 of which are taken from the Magnum Archive, and work in dialogue with 48 images from Campari’s own archive.

Paris, France, 1954. © Inge Morath / Magnum Photos

The selection from Magnum starts in the 1930s and 40s — predating the cooperative’s official beginnings in 1947 — with images from Magnum’s future founders and early members: George Rodger, David ‘Chim’ Seymour, Robert Capa, Wayne Miller and Herbert List. It then moves through the decades: the 50s and 60s with Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Eve Arnold and Inge Morath, the 70s and 80s with Harry Gruyaert, Bruno Barbey, Martin Parr, and the early 2000s with an image from Danny Lyon. 

“The exhibition is designed to put together a narrative revolving around the world of the bar,” Campari curators Anita Todesco and Bianca Munari explain. “These interlocking stories, rituals and characters lead the visitor through the kaleidoscopic vitality of bar life, with shots from all over the world: Italy, Argentina, the USA, France, the UK, Poland, Cuba, China, Belgium, Switzerland, and many more.”

San Francisco, USA, 1969. © Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos

"Visitors can relive real-life moments from inside venues all around the world: from the ritual of coffee to that of the aperitif."

Capri, Italy, 1984 © Ferdinando Scianna / Magnum Photos

It is split into three sections. The first, titled ‘Sharing Moments,’ presents snapshots of impromptu bar scenes; of groups locked in discussion or debate, of solitary individuals reading a newspaper, and of musicians mid-performance bringing sound, movement, and life to the spaces.

Huxingting Tea House in the gardens of Yu Yuan. Shanghai, China, 1980. © Bruno Barbey / Magnum Photos

The second section, ‘Bar Campari,’ presents shots of Campari places and spaces through the ages — shots of the historic Caffè Campari which opened in Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele Il on the Piazza Duomo in 1867 work in dialogue with Italian beaches of the 1930s and the neon signs of a ‘Bar Moderno’ in the 1950s.

Milan, Italy, 1919–20. © Galleria Campari Archive
Italy, 1955. © Galleria Campari Archive

And finally, the third section, ‘The Icons’ zooms in on famous faces and iconic places in the world of bar culture. Hemingway, deep in discussion, stands at a bar in Idaho in 1940, as captured by Robert Capa. Another shows Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier in the midst of a press conference for the film “The Prince and The Showgirl’ in the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom in 1956, captured by Eve Arnold.

Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier at the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom. New York City, USA, 1956. © Eve Arnold / Magnum Photos
Ernest Hemingwau talking at a bar. Sun Valley, Idaho, USA, 1940. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos

Visitors of the exhibition at the Galleria Campari in Milan — an impressive space designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta — can also browse a large selection of recipe books and cocktail compendia from the late 19th century to the 2000s, as well as a section of vintage ephemera and artworks by artists such as Dudovich or Cappiello. 

Visit the exhibition from October 4, 2023, to May 1, 2024, at the Galleria Campari in Milan.

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