Monday, November 2, 2009

Albert Kahn's historic autochrome photographs

Cambodia
China
Ireland
Morocco
Vietnam

I just watched this brilliant BBC doco on Albert Kahn's autochrome images from the 1920s. History is transformed for me when you see it in colour, suddenly people whom you've resigned to a kind of historical un-reality are brought sharply into vision. It's as if someone's turned the light switch on an emotionality that was untouchable before when hidden within the black and white nature of the past.

"In 1909 the millionaire French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn embarked on an ambitious project to create a colour photographic record of, and for, the peoples of the world. As an idealist and an internationalist, Kahn believed that he could use the new autochrome process, the world's first user-friendly, true-colour photographic system, to promote cross-cultural peace and understanding.

Kahn used his vast fortune to send a group of intrepid photographers to more than fifty countries around the world, often at crucial junctures in their history, when age-old cultures were on the brink of being changed for ever by war and the march of twentieth-century globalisation. They documented in true colour the collapse of both the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires; the last traditional Celtic villages in Ireland, just a few years before they were demolished; and the soldiers of the First World War — in the trenches, and as they cooked their meals and laundered their uniforms behind the lines. They took the earliest-known colour photographs in countries as far apart as Vietnam and Brazil, Mongolia and Norway, Benin and the United States."


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