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The Dawn of the Color Photograph:
Albert Kahn's Archives of the Planet
David Okuefuna

Hardcover | 2009 | This edition is out of print | ISBN: 9780691139074


In 1909 the French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn launched a monumentally ambitious project: to produce a color photographic record of human life on Earth. An internationalist and pacifist, Kahn believed that he could use the new autochrome--the world's first portable, true-color photographic process--to create a global photographic archive that would promote cross-cultural understanding and peace. Over the next twenty years, he sent a group of photographers to more than fifty countries around the world, amassing more than 72,000 images. Until recently his collection was all but forgotten. Now, a century after he began his "Archives of the Planet" project, this book--richly illustrated in color throughout--and the BBC series it follows are bringing Kahn's dazzling early twentieth-century pictures to a wide audience for the first time, and putting color into what we usually think of as a monochrome world.

Kahn's photographers captured times, places, and people we simply do not expect to see in color photographs. They documented age-old cultures on the brink of being changed forever by war, modernization, and Westernization, recording the last years of Ireland's traditional Celtic villages and the late days of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. They photographed First World War soldiers in their trenches as well as the postwar celebrations in London. In the course of their travels, they also took the earliest color photographs in countries as varied as Vietnam and Brazil, Mongolia and Norway, Benin and the United States.

After being financially ruined in the Great Depression, Kahn was forced to bring his project to a premature end, but today his collection of early color photographs is recognized as one of the world's most important. The Dawn of the Color Photograph makes it easy to see why.


"The French banker Albert Kahn (1860-1940) was another gambler ensorcelled by the wonders of photography. A wealthy philanthropist who hoped to promote world peace by recording life around the globe on film, he was until recently an obscure figure. David Okefuna's richly illustrated book on his life, published in the U.S. by Princeton University Press in conjunction with a BBC documentary, helped change that perception."--Richard B. Woodward, Wall Street Journal

"You'll see priceless photographs of a world in transition, including haunting shots from the poverty-stricken farms of Ireland and the battlefield trenches of the First World War. The images are fascinating, both from a historical and an artistic perspective. And one of the great things about this book is that author David Okuefuna provides enough information to help you understand how the images were taken and also their historical context. . . . The pictures featured in this book are stunning and offer a unique view of world history and also the beginnings of color photography."--Nicole Warburton, Deseret Morning News

"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."--Nicole Rudick, Bookforum

"The pictures [are] full of the fascination of all old photodocumentation, heightened by color more sensual than later color processes deliver without tweaking. Accompanied by a direct, nontechnical text and complementing a BBC-TV series, this is a world-history buff's delight."--Ray Olson, Booklist

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File created: 2/24/2017

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