I have spent part of this weekend watching the first episodes of the BBC series The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn - http://www.albertkahn.co.uk/ which tells the story of an extraordinary character and of a collection of photographs that keep the visual memory of the world as it was a century ago.

Albert Kahn - source http://www.albertkahn.co.uk/

Albert Kahn was a French Alsatian of Jewish origin who made a fortune at the start of the 20th century and decided to embark in a project that would keep bring together people living in the most remote places of the planet and make them know better each other. He decided to hire cameramen and photographers and use the very recent inventions of motion filming and color photography in order to document life on the most remote places of Earth. A pacifist and an idealist he believed that by helping humans see how other people lived he could bring them together, and avoid conflicts. The history of the 20th century proved him wrong in his pacifist endeavors, but his work built a library of films and photos that keep the visual image of the world as it was 100 years ago, of people, countries and customs that are no more.

woman in Ireland - source http://www.albertkahn.co.uk/

You need to go and explore by yourselves this extraordinary collection of images. Here are a few that were presented in the episodes of the series that I have seen until now. Ireland for example was still part of the United Kingdom by that time, and the last Celtic villages were populated by people like the woman above with the red mantle typical to the area.

Walls of the Forbidden City - source http://www.albertkahn.co.uk/

Albert Kahn took his team into a trip around the world visiting several continents among which Asia. Here is a photo of the Imperial City in Beijing – it was still really the Forbidden City by that time when the last emperor of China ascended to the throne at the age of 2 years. I visited the place just a few months ago and it looks like a different world.

Plaza Hotel in New York - source http://www.albertkahn.co.uk/

People who know New York may be familiar with the 28-store Plaza Hotel in the proximity of Central Park, today crushed by the neighboring sky-scrapers. Around 1910 it was a brand new building dominating the skyline.

Greek inhabitants - source http://www.albertkahn.co.uk/

Kahn and his team visited the Balkans area just before and during the Balkan wars that were the prelude of World War I. He photographed the different communities that were living so close in a limited geographical area, sometimes speaking the same languages and yet so divided by the national and religious differences. He photographed Thessaloniki at a time when the Turkish and Jewish communities were still part of a multinational vibrant city.

soldiers in World War I - source http://www.albertkahn.co.uk/

World War I was a deep shock for the pacifist Kahn, but at the same time he was a French patriot and volunteered to photograph and document the life of the French soldiers and the destruction of war. The result is a realistic and poignant rendition of how human beings behave and suffer when caught in a big conflagration.

The quality of the photography in the collection is amazing. Some of them get to the level of the best pictures in National Geographic and they were taken one century ago! I invite you all to visit the Web site. I plan to include also the museum that keeps the collection and the memory of Albert Kahn on my next visit to Paris – http://www.albert-kahn.fr/