In Pictures: Get a Glimpse of Bygone Worlds Through an Archive of Early Color Photographs Just Published by a French Museum

Images from the Albert-Kahn Museum's "The Archives of the Planet" collection are available to download online for free.

The Kanak village at the L'Exposition Coloniale Internationale de 1931 in Bois de Vincennes, Paris, France (1931). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

A collection of some 72,000 color photographs from the early 20th century are now freely available online for the first time, in high resolution, courtesy of the Albert-Kahn Museum in Boulogne-Billancourt, France. Offering a glimpse of a long-lost world, these century-old images were created using autochrome technology—an early color photography process that had then only just become commercially available.

The museum, which reopened in April after an extensive five-year renovation of both its building and digital portal, houses The Archives of the Planet—a vast trove of photographs and film assembled by the French banker and keen philanthropist Albert Kahn.

The archival project, which began in 1908, sought to document different cultures from around the world, including those in Brazil, the Middle East, Scandinavia, and West Africa. Its mission was to “preserve once and for all certain aspects, practices, and modes of human activity whose fatal disappearance is only a matter of time,” as Kahn correctly predicted.

Khan accompanied two professional photographers, Stéphane Passet and August Léon, on these major international expeditions until the stock market crash put an end to the project.

Now his incredible record is easier than ever to search and discover, with most of the images falling under a Creative Commons license so they can be shared and reused.

Preview some of these fascinating autochromes below. 

Stéphane Passet, A Mongol rider on the Ourga route in Mongolia (1913). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Auguste Léon, A Young married couple in the studio of the photographer Gerda Söderlund in Karingberget, Sweden (1910). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Auguste Léon, Séville, Spain (1914). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Stéphane Passet, A man at temple Kongmiao in Tchoufou, China (1913). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Georges Chevalier, M. Masson’s songs and crew in Bretagne, France (1920). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Auguste Léon, Bayreuth in Bavière, Germany (1912). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Auguste Léon, Campo Bandiera e Moro, Venice in Italy (1912). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Stéphane Passet, Official of the Jain temple Hathi Singh in Ahmadabad, India (1913). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Stéphane Passet, Friday prayers in the courtyard of the Great Mosque (Jama Masjid) in Delhi, India (1913–14). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Stéphane Passet, An éléphant in Amber, India (1913). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Roger Dumas, Paul Hazoumé in France. Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Auguste Léon, Serbians, three daughters of Smilevo and the granddaughter of the house in urban costume in Macedonia (1913). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Jules Gervais -Courtellemont, Carpet manufacturer in Algeria (c.1909–11). Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

Auguste Léon, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) in the alley of Roses in France. Photo: © Département des Hauts-de-Seine / Musée départemental Albert-Kahn.

 

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