ALBERT KAHN'S BULGARIA

by Anthony Georgieff

The Archives of the Planet was conceived by Albert Kahn, a wealthy French banker and philanthropist, after a round-theworld tour in 1908-1909

Albert Kahn Bulgaria 5.jpg

An exhibition of early 20th Century photography, The Archives of the Planet, has been the talk of the town throughout the summer. The exhibition, curated by noted Bulgarian photographer Ivo Hadzhimishev and organised by the French Embassy and the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, was on display at the National Art Gallery in Sofia, and is scheduled to travel to Sozopol, Varna, Dobrich, Veliko Tarnovo, Elena, Plovdiv and Stara Zagora.

The Archives of the Planet was conceived by Albert Kahn, a wealthy French banker and philanthropist, after a round-theworld tour in 1908-1909. In the best traditions of capitalist positivism Kahn commissioned a group of scientists and photographers to travel all over the world and document what would later be dubbed "the largest library/image bank collection of documents about humanity." Using mainly autochromes, an early colour photography process, but also stereo as well as moving images and sound recordings, Kahn's team set about documenting aspects of human life as varied as the topography of human needs, such as food and housing, the geography of history, and that of land exploitation. In addition, many autochromes depict famous personalities such as India's Rabindranath Tagore, Greece's Nikolaos Politis and Britain's James Ramsey MacDonald.

Some of the landmark photographs in The Archives of the Planet include the first colour images of the Great Sphinx at Giza, the Taj Mahal in India and the Great Wall of China. Kahn went bankrupt as a result of the 1929 Stock Exchange Crash and died in 1940.

The Archives of the Planet collection has 72,000 autochromes and over 170,000 metres of film footage. It is now owned by the Upper Seine Department in France.

In 1913-1918 two of Kahn's photographers, Stéphane Passet and Leon Busy, made trips to Bulgaria, mainly in the areas of Melnik and Sofia. In total 66 autochromes of The Archives of the Planet were produced in this country.

Albert Kahn in Paris

Albert Kahn in Paris

 

St Alexandr Nevskiy Cathedral, Sofia, 1918, autochrome by Léon Busy

St Alexandr Nevskiy Cathedral, Sofia, 1918, autochrome by Léon Busy

 

Melnik, a town at the foot of sandstone rocks

Melnik, a town at the foot of sandstone rocks

 

Interior of St Alexandr Nevskiy Cathedral, Sofia, 1918, autochrome by Léon Busy

Interior of St Alexandr Nevskiy Cathedral, Sofia, 1918, autochrome by Léon Busy

 

A group of men, women and children among the remains of the Village of Mandzhovo, near Melnik, 21 September 1913, autautochrome Stéphane Passet

A group of men, women and children among the remains of the Village of Mandzhovo, near Melnik, 21 September 1913, autautochrome Stéphane Passet

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