In 1909, a French philanthropist banker created The Archives of the Planet, a project designed to record and share the diversity of the world. Between 1909 and 1931, Albert Kahn financed missions around the globe, producing more than 72.000 photographs, as well as over 100 hours of video footage. A firm pacifist, he tried to enlighten decision-makers in order to achieve and maintain peace.
Faces from the past
His collection takes the viewer from the western Canadian coast to Japan, and from Rio de Janeiro to Benin, in Africa. With the help of geographer Jean Brunhes, Khan’s project integrated the principles of human geography, a branch of geography studying the dynamics between human cultures and their environment.
A changing world
Kahn’s photo-campaigns unfold during a time of dramatic changes, from relative peace to world war, and from rural to mass industrialization. This is also when the Lumière brothers invented the autochrome, an early color photography process. This new technique captured Khan’s attention, to the point of establishing one of the largest autochrome collections in the world.
Albert Khan’s intention was to capture disruptive events, transcending immediate reality. And his life was rich in such episodes from the beginning : he was born in 1860 in Alsace, France, a territory occupied by the Germans in 1871 and reconquered by the French after WW1. He died in November 1940, in Nazi-occupied Paris, not long after having declared himself a Jew during a census run by the new regime.
A very select face-book
His estate in Boulogne, on the outskirts of Paris, as well as his villa in Cap-Martin, on the French Riviera, hosted many of his high-society friends. Luckily for us, Kahn had a habit of placing his guests, no matter how select, in front of a camera, thus collecting a series of remarkable portraits.
Albet Kahn’s collection, as well as his gardens, are a part of the Albert-Kahn Museum in Boulogne-Billancourt, France. All the photographs are credited to the museum.