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

by Celio H. Barreto

BBC Television producer David Okuefuna’s book The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet, published in the U.K. by BBC Books in 2008, compliments his TV series Edwardians in Colour:The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn and Twenties in Colour: The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn first broadcast in 2007. This book seeks to present a survey of the Albert Kahn Collection’s best examples of autochrome photographs commissioned between 1908 and 1931 for his ambitious pacifist and educational project: Archive of the Planet.

Okuefuna introduces the book by giving a brief overview of milestones in Banker Albert Kahn’s life which he presents as a framework to illustrate his motivations to promote pacifist goals through education; first by providing teachers from the US, UK, France and Japan Around-The-World Tour scholarships and later by using the latest imaging technologies available to commission his photographers with a grand archival project. He describes how this project was neither designed as art, ethnography or reportage but rather an archive that would show people from around the world in their daily lives, and how it revealed a world where life was a struggle marked by poverty, privation and pain.

The book is divided into a foreword by Gilles Baud-Berthier, Director of the Museé Albert-Kahn in France, an introduction by Okuefuna connecting Kahn’s experiences with three wars with his motivation for creating the archive, nine chapters (not-chronologically arranged) covering broad geographical regions around the world: Western Europe; The Americas, The Balkans, The Far East, Indochina, The Middle East and Africa; a chapter is dedicated to The First World War, and the last chapter dedicated to Portraits. There are two appendixes, one on the autochrome process and the second, also by Baud-Berthier, about Mr. Kahn’s legacy. The last two segments of the book are the bibliography and the acknowledgements.

The book contains a vast selection of autochrome photographs depicting a wide array of people from around the world in their national settings drawn from Albert Kahn’s collection housed in the museum named after him in Hauts-de-Seine, France. The photographs include people from diverse social backgrounds and occupations, presenting a rich survey of individuals and groups. Each photograph is captioned descriptively and accompanied by its identification number and photographer credit where known.

Each chapter in turn is accompanied by a text which serves not only to provide context to the places, people and events captured by Kahn’s operateurs in the photographs but also give an impression of their travel experiences and finally, to adumbrate Kahn’s motivations, which centred around wanting to prevent nations from going to war with each other and show people the challenges in a world much more unified than ever before.

This book is a wonderful research tool, as it provides a comprehensive collection of stunning, un-retouched images as close to the originals, contextual information, diary entires and other supportive information that gives a deeper dimension to the volume and allow the reader to gain a better understanding of the world in the first decades of the 20th Century.

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