Thursday, February 18, 2021

"The Dawn of the Color Photograph"

I've been checking out photo-related books from my local library over the last 14 months. I recently learned about Albert Kahn and his undertaking of hired photographers in the book "The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn's Archives of the Planet" by David Okuefuna.

I had never heard of Kahn or his contribution to the world just after the advent of color photography. Here's a bit about Kahn and this book from

In 1909, two years after the Lumière brothers invented the Autochrome process, French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn initiated a twenty-two-year project (brought to an end by his ruin in the Great Depression) to photograph the world in color. Known as the Archives de la Planète, this astounding body of work, some seventy-two thousand images, captured life in more than fifty countries, many during moments of profound upheaval. Kahn’s hired photographers sat with French soldiers in the trenches, walked through a Smyrna razed in the Greco-Turkish War, and witnessed Emir Faisal’s campaign to free Arabia from Ottoman control. But the archive is particularly remarkable for its documentation of lands and peoples once little seen by Western eyes. The collection boasts what may be the earliest color photographs of the Taj Mahal and the Egyptian pyramids, as well as striking portraits of Kurdish women in northern Iraq, dancers from the Khmer ballet in Angkor, and itinerant Mongolian hunters on the steppes near the Russian border. But does the past change when we see it in color? In many instances, the vivid palette brings the images closer to our present moment, making the world—and the distance of history—frighteningly small.

His goal wasn't to have his photographers make "art," but more to simply "document" the world. As the book states, the images his photographers produced "were not works of reportage or ethnography, nor an attempt to produce works of art. The aim was simply to record human beings in all their diversity, living humble lives worthy of respect."

Here's a bit about some of Kahn's project from 2007 on BBC Two:


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