August 2008

Arts & Letters

‘The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn: Colour Photographs from a Lost Age’ by David Okuefuna

By Alexandra Coghlan

The Buddhist monk aflame in Saigon of 1963; the mushroom cloud of the Nagasaki atom bomb; September 11's Falling Man: the familiar visual touchstones of the conflicts of our age. Yet before the era of reportage and the impact photo, before the concept of - let alone the term - globalisation, one man sought to use photography not only to reflect but to shape international politics. As an acquaintance of his wrote: "His dream was to unify the world of the future ... and that all racial and religious intolerance be destroyed."

Albert Kahn's achievements were almost as epic as his philosophical ideals. By the time of his death, in 1940, this Edwardian visionary and pacifist had made and lost a fortune in Paris, travelled across continents and overseen a vast anthropological project that yielded 120 hours of documentary film and more than 72,000 photographs, capturing scenes of daily life across the globe: from Canada to Cambodia, Syria to Switzerland. His attempt to create a comprehensive record of human life, the Archives of the Planet, yielded the earliest colour photographs of such sites as the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat, while delicate images of the Balkans, Western Europe and the Middle East truly represent a "memento mori for a lost age".

David Okuefuna's beautiful coffee-table book showcases just some of the images from Kahn's remarkable archives. Each regional set of photos (arranged in careful editorial juxtaposition) is interspersed with a short contextual overview of the period, supplemented by the personal travel narratives of Kahn and his team of photographers. The result is a compelling social history that both narrates and depicts its story of a fragile and vanishing world.

Central to this book's appeal is its faithful reproduction of autochromes, the first true-colour photographs. Created using potato starch, these images are startling in the richness and delicacy of colour yielded by their granular, almost pointillist, texture. The deep blue of a geisha's kimono, the red flush of an Irish girl's shawl against a grey landscape and the acidic pinks and oranges of Vietnamese festival costumes all bring clamouring life to the hitherto shadowy and distant monochrome landscapes of the past.

Alexandra Coghlan

Alexandra Coghlan is the classical music critic for the New Statesman. She has written on the arts for the Guardian and Prospect.

Cover: August 2008

August 2008

From the front page

Pub test: restart the boats

The Coalition’s scare campaign is no sure thing in the suburbs

Image of Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks

Pete Shelley’s Buzzcocks: 40 years on

The history and legacy of a punk pioneer

Image from ‘Camping’

Unhappy ‘Camping’

Lena Dunham’s new comedy series is an accidental portrait of toxic femininity

Illustration

From Hillsong to the Bible Belt

Christine Caine’s Australian brand of evangelism has found its flock in America


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Isabel Letham & Duke Kahanamoku

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The wanderer

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

On the edge

‘Bright Air’ by Barry Maitland


More in Arts & Letters

Still from The Front Runner

The spectacle of a political scandal: Jason Reitman’s ‘The Front Runner’ and Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘Loro’

New films about ’80s presidential hopeful Gary Hart and Italy’s controversial Silvio Berlusconi both miss the mark

Image of Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks

Pete Shelley’s Buzzcocks: 40 years on

The history and legacy of a punk pioneer

Image of Les Murray

Les Murray’s magisterial ‘Collected Poems’

How to approach a 736-page collection by Australia’s greatest poet?

Image of a bushfire

Fair judgement without surrender: Chloe Hooper’s ‘The Arsonist’

The author of ‘The Tall Man’ tries to understand the motivations of a Black Saturday firebug


More in Noted

The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at QAGOMA

Politics, culture and colour collide in Brisbane

Still from The Cry

ABC TV’s ‘The Cry’

This Scottish–Australian drama successfully subverts the missing-child genre

Image of Henri Matisse, A Game of Bowls, 1908

‘Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

From Matisse to Malevich: a considered snapshot of adventurous Russian collecting

‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

For their Netflix debut, the Coen brothers return to the Western


Read on

Image from ‘Camping’

Unhappy ‘Camping’

Lena Dunham’s new comedy series is an accidental portrait of toxic femininity

Image from ‘Russian Doll’

A bug in the code: ‘Russian Doll’

This existential comedy is 2019’s first must-see Netflix series

Image of crossbenchers Derryn Hinch, Adam Bandt, Nick McKim, Kerryn Phelps, Tim Storer and Andrew Wilkie discussing the medical transfer bill in November

Debate over asylum seeker medical transfers reaches new lows

The government’s scare campaign against the crossbench bill denigrates doctors and detainees

Image from ‘Capharnaüm’

‘Capharnaüm’: giving voice to the voiceless

Nadine Labaki on what motivated her exploration of turmoil’s impact on children


×
×