The Archives of the Planet: Explore 72,000 Photos Taken a Century Ago to Document Human Cultures Around the World

The world, we often hear, used to be big­ger. Today, if you feel the faintest twinge of curios­i­ty about a dis­tant place — Bei­jing, Paris, Cam­bo­dia, Egypt — you can near-instan­ta­neous­ly call up count­less hours of high-qual­i­ty video footage shot there, and with only a lit­tle more effort even com­mu­ni­cate in real-time with peo­ple actu­al­ly liv­ing there. This may be the case in the ear­ly twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, but it cer­tain­ly was­n’t in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth. If you’d want­ed to see the world back then, you either had to trav­el it your­self, an expen­sive and even dan­ger­ous propo­si­tion, or else hire a team of expert pho­tog­ra­phers to go forth and cap­ture it for you.

Albert Kahn, a suc­cess­ful French banker and spec­u­la­tor, did both. A few years after mak­ing his own trip around the world, tak­ing stere­o­graph­ic pho­tos and even motion-pic­ture footage along the way, he came up with the idea for a project called Les archives de la planète, or The Archives of the Plan­et.

Direct­ed by the geo­g­ra­ph­er Jean Brun­hes (and influ­enced by the philoso­pher Hen­ri Berg­son, a friend of Kah­n’s), Les archives de la planète spent most of the nine­teen-tens and nine­teen-twen­ties dis­patch­ing pho­tog­ra­phers to var­i­ous ends of the earth on few­er than four con­ti­nents: Europe, Amer­i­ca, Asia, and Africa. And if you click on those links, you can see the pro­jec­t’s pho­tos from the rel­e­vant regions your­self.

Hav­ing been dig­i­tized, the fruits of Les archives de la planète now reside online, at the web site of the Albert Kahn Muse­um. You can browse its col­lec­tion there, or on this image por­tal, where you can view fea­tured pho­tos or access whichev­er part of the world in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry you’d like to see. (Just make sure to do it in French.) The online archive con­tains a large chunk of the 72,000 autochrome pic­tures tak­en in 50 coun­tries by Kah­n’s pho­tog­ra­phers before he was wiped out by the stock mar­ket crash of 1929. Made freely avail­able in high res­o­lu­tion a cen­tu­ry after the height of his project, these vivid and evoca­tive pic­tures remind us that, how­ev­er small the world has become, the past remains a for­eign coun­try.

via Art­Net News/Petapix­el

Relat­ed con­tent:

Around the World in 1896: 40 Min­utes of Real Footage Lets You Vis­it Paris, New York, Venice, Rome, Budapest & More

Footage of Cities Around the World in the 1890s: Lon­don, Tokyo, New York, Venice, Moscow & More

Behold the Pho­tographs of John Thom­son, the First West­ern Pho­tog­ra­ph­er to Trav­el Wide­ly Through Chi­na (1870s)

How Vivid­ly Col­orized Pho­tos Helped Intro­duce Japan to the World in the 19th Cen­tu­ry

1850s Japan Comes to Life in 3D, Col­or Pho­tos: See the Stereo­scop­ic Pho­tog­ra­phy of T. Ena­mi

Petite Planète: Dis­cov­er Chris Marker’s Influ­en­tial 1950s Trav­el Pho­to­book Series

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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