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Dawn of colour photography The banker and his Utopian peace mission

Albert Kahn (1860-1940) was a French banker, Jew, philanthropist, pacifist and Utopian. One hundred years ago, as the First World War was raging, he sent 20 photographers around the world to document people, landscapes and monuments. A selection of these images is now on display in Switzerland for the first time. 

By doing this, Kahn wanted to contribute to world peace. Inspired by the work of French philosopher and Nobel Prize Winner Henri-Louis Bergson (1859–1941), Kahn was convinced that a knowledge of the world’s cultures would lead to peaceful co-existence: people who know and respect each other do not wage war, was his thinking. 

The photographers crossed Europe, Asia, Africa and America, taking pictures in colour, which was a technical novelty. Their mission was to capture local scenes, relaxed everyday situations, people in their typical clothes and uniforms, street views and famous monuments. 

The result was 72,000 long-forgotten images, immortalised on glass plates, which are now celebrated as a milestone in the history of documentary photography. 

The exhibition, “World in colour – colour photography before 1915”, runs at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich until September 27, 2015. 

(Images: Musée Albert Kahn, Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris/Text: Andreas Keiser,

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