Amazing Color Photos from WWI

Ransom Riggs

You may remember a post I did awhile back about amazing color photos from WWII, a series of really artful, beautiful slides of life at home and in the army around 1943. I think they do the most important thing that historical documents can do, which is to make things that happened a long time ago seem much less distant, like they could've happened yesterday. For some reason, it's easier to empathize and identify with people in good color photos than people in grainy black-and-white ones.

That's why I was so excited to learn about Albert Kahn, a French banker, philanthropist and early photography lover, who funded one of the earliest color photography projects on record. In the early 1900s, Kahn armed a team of photographers with the very latest image-making breakthrough: cameras that could shoot autochrome plates, which are these really sharp, saturated color slides (kinda like Kodakchrome, only decades earlier). He sent these photographers all over the world to capture "human life on Earth," and boy did he ever, amassing some 72,000 autochromes, now housed in the Albert Kahn museum in Paris.

Kahn's project is the focus of a nine-part BBC documentary that's airing this weekend (set your Tivo!), for which this is a kind of trailer:

You can find a few more autochromes on the Albert Kahn website. Here's hoping they put the whole collection online!