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The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn's Archives of the Planet [Hardcover]

David Okuefuna


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Book Description

2 Nov 2008

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.


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"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

"Autochrome technology was taken up by French philanthropist Albert Kahn, who sent photographers all over the world to record in color the panoply of human cultures, all in the interest of mutual understanding and peace. The results of Kahn's generosity are on display in The Dawn of the Color Photograph, and they amount to a massive collage of the early decades of the 20th century, a time."--Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World

"This fascinating book includes mostly posed groups of farmers, workers and artisans from Western Europe, the Americas, the Far East, Africa and Indochina."--Regan McMahon, San Francisco Chronicle

"When the Lumire brothers invented colour photography in 1907, one of their countrymen immediately saw in it the possibility of promoting cross-cultural understanding. Albert Kahn, a banker and pacifist from Paris, dispatched photographers around the globe to document the people they found. For the next 20 years, they immortalized Germans, Montenegrins, Egyptians, Mongolians and every other manner of global citizen. This isn't a book about photography; it's a pictorial history of the colour-saturated world that existed before we all started wearing blue jeans and Nike T-shirts."--The Globe and Mail

"Most of us would think that photos of a trip around the world made in 1908 couldn't possibly have been taken in colour, but they were. This book gives a fascinating look at some of the beautiful 72,000 colour images, which are accompanied in the archives by 4,000 black and white photographs and 120 hours of rare documentary film footage, all housed in the Musee Albert-Kahn in a Parisian suburbs."--Nancy Tousley, Calgary Herald

"Amazing, filled with color photographs shot from about 1909 to 1929. French banker Albert Kahn sent a team of photographers to shoot pictures in autochrome, the first portable color photographic process around the globe. Blue sails, red cloaks, yellow flowers: The hues are astonishing, and so are the glimpses of a vanished world."--Sarah Bryan Miller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"A beautifully illustrated book. . . . The Dawn of the Color Photograph is a handsome document full of lush and memorable images. Most of us still picture 1909 exclusively in black and white, so it's a revelation to peer back 100 years and see such eerily bright hues."--Dushko Petrovich, The Boston Globe

"The photographs, hundreds of which are compiled in the new book, are breathtaking. . . . [An] extraordinary volume. . . . Countless beautiful images of now-lost worlds to enthrall us and remind us where we came from."--Raquel Laneri, Forbes.com

"Albert Kahn's 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."--Art New England

"You can hardly read this collection without being conscious of the remarkable research effort involved in bringing together hundreds of thinly documented photos and attempting to write informative captions for each."--James F. X. O'Gara, Weekly Standard

"To celebrate a century of the little-known collection, Princeton University Press has issued an impressive new monograph, The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn's Archives of the Planet. . . . The new book is the first widely available collection to reproduce Kahn's photographs from every region of the world."--Mark Cohen, Nextbook.org

"David Okuefuna, a producer of the BBC television series 'The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn,' is to be commended for making Kahn's early color photography accessible. It is a joy to behold."--Larry Cox, King Features Weekly Service

From the Inside Flap

"An astonishing, captivating, and extraordinary collection of early color photographs."--Anthony W. Lee, Mount Holyoke College

Praise for the television series: "Astonishing images."--Time Out

Praise for the television series: "A fascinating and vivid celebration of the earliest examples of colour photography."--Gareth McLean, Guardian

Praise for the television series: "A legacy of inestimable richness."--Benjamin Secher, Daily Telegraph


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A jewel representing a real treasure 8 April 2009
By PHILIPPE VANDENBOSSCHE - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An abslolute marvel. Things have been said about the editor's political views shining through in the commentaries, but they fit the original goal of Albert Kahn. This wealthy pacifist thought that less wars would be fought if people knew more about each other, and that's why he sent out his photographers. The pictures they took weren't meant to have merely artistic value, but, as far as can be told from this impressive selection, most of them add this value to the actual purpose. I would have liked a slightly more extensive technical explanation of the process, but, after all, it isn't a book about photography techniques. The book is a jewel. Behind the jewel lies the treasure: the complete collection of colour pictures shot between 1908 and 1931 (72,000 "autochromes"!), preserved in the Musée Albert Kahn.
33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 For Photos 3 For Commentary 24 Oct 2008
By M. Curtin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I learned about Albert Kahn and his project only a year ago and I eagerly anticipated this volume. The pictures do not disappoint. They are the star of the show.

Unfortunately the curator's modern political views come in to play in the text and in the photo descriptions. Instead of reveling in the historic glory of these images we are instead given a banal political discourse which is an intrusion into the intent and product of this project. It is truly a shame. 5 stars as the historical significance of this collection cannot be denied. But a separate 1 star for the commentary which attempts to hijack a noble project for a particular political viewpoint nearly 100 years after the original project was completed. Despicable.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Early Colour Autochromes of the World 19 Nov 2009
By Richard R. Vallon Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a large and lavishly illustrated book of early Colour Autochromes.
It is beautiful, well produced and is a bargain.

Albert Kahn was a wealthy finanacier living in Paris in the teens - 20s that decided to spend much of
his money sending photographers to document the world with the newly developed Autochrome Colour process...

The scope of the book provides images I have seen published nowhere else.
I first glanced through the book to see all of the fantastic color photographs,
but on a second reading discovered the excellent travelogues of many of the photographers themselves. These are very well written accounts
from their often 1.5 year tour of places such as China , Vietnam , Japan, the middle East and elsewhere which point to political tensions and travel hardships and restrictions of the period.
One particular image of a beautiful Vietnamese woman in a private opium den gives the reader the sense of being a time traveling voyeur...in perfect color!
There is some "revisionist" fuss made about that particular photographer's fascination with the boudoirs of various Vietnamese ladies, but there is nothing in the book
that children could not see. I'll defend him on this count- there are no other colour images of Vietnamese boudoirs from the period!
The images are tame ( and clothed ) compared to Bellocq's New Orleans Storyville Portraits...

Richard Vallon Jr. , Photographer with an interest in the History of Colour Photography, from New Orleans
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Past in Impressionistic Colors 18 May 2009
By A reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This beautiful book is the best treasury of Autochromes I've yet seen. I am impressed that the producers of this book did not attempt to Photoshop out all defects, such as mold spots and plate cracks. It is well to remind ourselves that the past was not in "black and white" as movies and newsreels suggest. I, for one, like the commentary that is included; the context is very important. My only criticism is that the printing QA was not as good as it might have been. My copy has an ink splotch on the first page and some other pages have ink splotches as well.Also, I wish this book could been printed in the US instead of outsourced to China.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars good overview 6 Jan 2009
By N. H. Hubbard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book draws on the same material and uses many of the images contained in the BBC documentary on Kahn. It is well laid out, contains useful - but not exhaustive - commentary on the images selected. It is very well produced in terms of quality of paper, reproduction and binding
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