Born in Santa Margherita Ligure in 1930, Gianni Berengo Gardin first began to take pictures in 1954. After living in Rome, Venice, Lugano and Paris, he settled in Milan in 1965 and started his career as a professional photographer, focusing his activities on documentary photographs, social research, architectural records and portraying the environment. His first photographic reports were published in 1954 in Il Mondo, edited by Mario Pannunzio, with whom he collaborated until 1965. Between 1966 and 1983 he worked with Touring Club Italiano, for whom he produced a number of volumes on Italy and other European countries, and with the Istituto Geografico De Agostini. He worked closely alongside the industrial world (Olivetti, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, IBM, Italsider etc.), compiling reports and company monographs. In 1979 he started to work with Renzo Piano, and recorded the progress of his architectural projects. Since 1990 he has been represented by Contrasto. He has worked with the leading Italian newspapers and the international press, but has concentrated on publishing books, with c. 200 titles currently in print, including both photography and monographs. His last retrospective book (Gianni Berengo Gardin) has been published in 2005 by Contrast0 (in Italy and America), Thames&Hudson (English), and Editions de La Martiniére (French),
In 1963, Berengo Gardin was awarded a prize by the World Press Photo. This was the first of a number of awards, including the Scanno prize (1981) for the best photography book of the year with India dei villaggi (a book about the villages of India), the Leica Oskar Barnack Award (1995) at the Recontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles for the book La disperata allegria: Vivere da zingari a Firenze (about the life of gypsies in Florence), and the Oscar Goldoni prize (1998) for the best photography book of the year with Zingari a Palermo (about the gypsies of Palermo). In 1990 he was the guest of honour at the Mois de la Photo in Paris, where he was awarded the Brassaï prize.
He has mounted around 200 exhibitions both in Italy and abroad, including the great anthological exhibitions held in Arles in 1987, in Milan in 1990, in Lausanne in 1991 and in Paris in 1990 and 1997. The most recent ones have been in Milan (2005, Forma), in Paris, 2005 (MEP), in New York’s Leica Gallery in 1999, at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome in 2001. He has also displayed his works at the Photokina in Cologne, at Montreal’s Expo and at the Biennial in Venice. In 1994 he took part in the exhibition ‘The Italian Metamorphosis, 1943–1968’ at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. His images form part of collections in various museums and cultural foundations, including the Calcografia Nazionale in Rome, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Maisonne Européenne de la Photographie, the FNAC Collection in Paris and the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne.
In 1972, Modern Photography magazine placed him among the ‘World’s 32 Top Photographers’. In 1975, Cecil Beaton mentioned him in the book The Magic Image: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day. In 1975, Bill Brandt chose him for the ‘Twentieth Century Landscape Photographs’ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He was the only photographer to be mentioned by E. H. Gombrich in the book The Image and the Eye (Oxford, 1982). Italo Zannier described him as the ‘most eminent photographer of the post-war period’. He is among the eighty photographers that Henri Cartier-Bresson selected for the exhibition ‘Les Choix d’Henri Cartier-Bresson’.