In 1908, the French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn launched one of the most
ambitious projects in the history of photography. A pacifist, internationalist and
utopian idealist, Kahn decided to use his private fortune to improve understanding
between the nations of the world. To this end, he created what he called his Archive
of the Planet. For the next two decades, he dispatched professional photographers to
document the everyday lives of people in more than 50 countries all around the world.
Kahn's wealth enabled him to supply his photographers with the most advanced camera
technology available. They used the autochrome - the first user-friendly camera system
capable of producing true-colour photographs.
Some of the most important of all the 72,000 colour images in Kahn's Archive were shot
during three separate visits (in 1908, 1912 and 1926) to Japan. As an international
financier, Kahn had established a network of contacts that included some of the most
prominent members of Japan's business, banking and political elites. Consequently,
Kahn's photographers were granted privileged access to places that would have
otherwise been off limits - including some of the royal palaces, where they shot
colour portraits of the princes and princesses from Japan's Imperial family. But some
of their most fascinating images capture moments from the lives of ordinary Japanese
people at work and play. This film showcases Kahn's treasury of films and autochromes
of silk-farmers, Shinto monks, schoolchildren, porcelain merchants, Kabuki stars and
geishas - pictures that were recorded at a time when this fascinating country was
going through momentous changes.