The Dawn Of The Color Photograph

“the dawn of the color photograph:Albert Kahn’s archives of the planet” By David Okuefuna

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Reviewed by larry cox

The spring of 1907 was a pivotal time for the development of the color photograph. That June in Paris, Auguste and Louis Lumiere gave the first public demonstration of what they called the autochrome. The technology presented was based on a granular compound that consisted of potato starch, making it possible to produce true-color photographs with a standard glass-plate camera.

Albert Kahn, a banker and philanthropist, was fascinated by the new medium, although he was extremely camera shy. As a man of the world, he realized this was an incredible step forward, and he began collecting autochrome plates as early as the summer of 1908.

Although few of the earliest images have survived, many of those that have are the direct result of Kahn. He used a large chunk of his personal fortune to create what he called the Archives de la Planete (Archives of the Planet). It was nothing less than an attempt to produce a photographic record of human life on earth. For more than two decades, Kahn hired professional photographers, supplied them with truckloads of autochrome plates and dispatched them to the far corners of the earth. The project continued until the Great Depression of the 1930s brought it to an abrupt end.

The Kahn collection is especially important because it captures times, places and people we do not expect to see in color photographs. For example, among the book’s hundreds of images are the exterior of the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris in 1914, a “jaunting car” carriage with passengers in Ireland in 1913, three Swedish women in folk costumes in 1910 and a World War I “Victory Parade” in London in 1919.

David Okuefuna is to be commended for making Kahn’s early color photography accessible. It is a joy to behold.

© 2008 King Features Synd., Inc.

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