Snapshots of a disappearing world.

Snapshots of a disappearing world.

Snapshots of a disappearing world.

On Albert Kahns archives of the world and his quest to unite people with empathy and understanding through color photography in in the early 1900s.


Albert Kahn

In an attempt to show the beauty of human life around the globe as well as creating a deeper sense of compassion and understanding across cultural barriers Albert Kahn, a wealthy banker in Paris, sent photographers to over 50 countries to capture life on earth.

Albert Kahn was a pacifist and a humanitarian with an urge to find new ways to prevent conflict between nations. A quest he started long before the invention of portable color photography. In 1898 he founded Bourses de Voyage Autour du Monde – a program that awarded travel grants to young academics. He believed the participants would use their experiences of diverse cultures to send out a more progressive view of what it is to be a human being. He strongly believed this sharing of knowledge could be a real force for human god.

The Dawn of the Color Photograph by David Okeuefuna.

In 1907 the Lumiére brothers invented the autochrome. This new technology, made mainly from potato starch, made it possible to produce color photography with a standard glass-plate camera. For the first time in history color photography was portable. For Kahn this presented unlimited possibilities and was the beginning of the project that came to be known as Albert Kahns Archives of the Planet. He now had a great new educational tool to help him promote his convictions. The following twenty-two years he hired a large number of photographers and sent them out into the world. The project resulted in an archive of over 72.000 photographs and 120 hours of film.

His collection presents to us a world in a state of change. It is hard not to be drawn in to the pictures, in them it always seems to be summer and time seems to have frozen. A time mainly portrayed in black and white is given back a sense of life that only the touch of color can provide. The photos are uncompromising and without judgement. They tell us a story about a world still not modified after/or erased by a relentless intervening globalization. Kahns archive is truly mesmerizing.

Vietnam summer 1915. Photographer Leon Busy. “Lying on a raised dais, this woman may have been the concubine of an affluent opium smoker. Most ordinary people consumed opium in dens, known as fuméries. The french operated a lucrative monopoly in opium distribution: some estimates suggests that a third of all colonial revenue was derived from the drug until the monopoly was dismantled in the 1930s.” Caption text from the dawn of the color photograph by David Okeuefuna.
Paris, France 24 June 1914. Photographer: Stéphane Passet. “Members of a Parisian family sit outside their home in the rue du Pot de Ver, in the Latin Quarter. In the spring of 1928, the British writer George Orwell moved in to an apartment on this street, which lies just off the lively and colorful rue Mouffetard. Orwell wrote about his time as a plongeur (dishwasher) at a nearby restaurant in hs semi-autobiographical novel Dawn and Out in Paris and London, first published in 1933”. Caption text from the dawn of the color photograph by David Okeuefuna.
Ourga, Mongolia 25 July 1913. Photographer: Stéphane Passet. In Mongolia’s criminaljustice system, methods of punishment were adapted to meet the needs of a nomadic society. As we can see here, wrongdoers might find themselves locked into heavy chains; such measures prevented escape attempts, yet enabled the Mongols to take their prisoners with them as they migrated across the steppes. Caption text from the dawn of the color photograph by David Okeuefuna.