Arts & Culture

Bar Stories on Camera

Hoepker’s image of a group of Portuguese locals watching television is one of 42 photographs to feature in “Bar Stories on Camera,” an exhibition currently on view at the Galleria Campari in Milan.

© Thomas Hoepker / Magnum Photos

An exhibition organized in collaboration with Galleria Campari in Milan takes a trip through the Magnum Archive to revisit life in bars and cafés over close to a century. 42 photographs from the 1930s to present day see citizens enjoying moments of community and celebration from around the world.

One of the photographs selected is from Thomas Hoepker’s early archive, made during a trip to Portugal in 1964. At the time, Hoepker was four years into his career as a photojournalist, based in Munich, but traveling far and wide to document different communities and cultures.

In an interview with Magnum around the exhibition, Campari curators Anita Todesco and Bianca Munari explain how Hoepker’s image relates to a European mood in the 50s and 60s, leaving them reminiscent of similar scenes in Italy during the post-war period. “There was a genuine sense of euphoria that led to the opening of countless bars, where Italians would meet up and get together, once more able to spend their free time outside the home,” they explain.

“In 1954, RAI television transmissions began and bar owners were the first to buy the early black-and-white television sets, meaning scores of people would crowd into the bar rooms to watch the early broadcasts on the magic box.

“Whether it was to anxiously await the answers of contestants questioned by the famous quiz show host, a very young Mike Bongiorno, to enjoy a non-alcoholic aperitif, simple cocktails, to wash down sandwiches, crisps, olives and salted peanuts, or a bitter, people would meet up in such places to enjoy a new and rediscovered sense of sociability.

“The bar thus became a context for sharing, a collective place of passage and meeting, where people would go during leisure time, to participate in salient social or historical moments, to try out new habits, savor original flavors, as well as to partake in established rituals, such as the aperitif itself. Now for all intents and purposes one of the social dimensions culturally and historically given over to sociability, in today’s bar, that ‘barrier’ denoted in its etymology has been all but done away with, making way for a space of great openness, sharing and experimentation.”

Below we explore a further selection of images from the exhibition that capture the spirit of bar life in the 50s and 60s, from Burt Glinn’s image of a typical Jazz bar jam in New York City to Elliott Erwitt’s lively crowd gathered around a rare pinball machine in a Parisian bar.

Maria Callas with American journalist Elsa Maxwell. Palma de Mallorca, Spain, 1961. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos
Milan, Italy, 1964. © Bruno Barbey / Magnum Photos
New York City, USA, 1955. © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos
Italy, 1951. © David Seymour / Magnum Photos
Jazz hangout for the "Beat" crowd. The band are standing on top of a liquor cabinet. New York City, USA, 1959. © Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos
A pub in Kings Road with the typical 60s clientel. Chelsea, London, England, 1967. © David Hurn / Magnum Photos
Paris, France, 1958. © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos

Visit the exhibition “Bar Stories on Camera” from October 4, 2023 to May 1, 2024, at the Galleria Campari in Milan.

More on this: 

An Ode to Café Culture with Campari

Thomas Hoepker’s Italia 

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