The World c. 1914. Colour Photography Before the Great War
Albert Kahn, Sergej M. Prokudin-Gorskii, Adolf Miethe
1 August to 2 November 2014
1 August to 2 November 2014
In commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War, the Martin-Gropius-Bau is presenting an exhibition entitled The World ca. 1914 – Colour Photography Before the Great War, which features nearly forgotten colour photographs and films commissioned by the French banker Albert Kahn (1860-1940) before the First World War. As the nations of Europe were already arming themselves for battle, Kahn, who was excited by the Lumière Brothers’ colour photography process, dispatched photographers out into the world to develop a unique photo archive. Over 70,000 colour photos have survived in this collection. They represent an immense ethnographic treasure and were also intended to perform a mission of peace: Bringing the outside world closer to home. Kahn’s activities were intended to help secure the fragile peace. The exhibition brings this treasure trove of images from a long forgotten world to light.
For Albert Kahn, knowledge of peoples, buildings, landscapes and lifestyles was directly related to his desire for global peace: People who know and respect one another, and who encounter one another face to face, do not need to wage war.
In 1908/09, excited by the new autochrome process of the brothers August and Louis Lumière, Kahn commissioned his photographers to document the world with the goal of assembling an archive of colour photographs from Europe, Asia and Africa. They photographed local scenes and people in typical clothing as well as monuments of cultural history.
From this global treasure trove, more than 160 images have been selected for this exhibition. The autochromes from the Kahn archive form the centrepiece. The exhibition also displays images and projections by Adolf Miethe (1862 – 1927) and Sergei M. Prokudin-Gorskii (1863 – 1944).
Adolf Miethe, the inventor of a panchromatic film-coating process and thus the creator of three-colour printing, played a significant role in the development of colour photography. His presentation before the Kaiser led to a commission to create a colour documentation of German landscapes for the St. Louis World’s Fair. His work also enjoyed great popularity as collectible pictures sold with chocolate bars. This resulted in the “Stollwerck Album” – Germany’s first coloured photographic album.
Moreover, the Miethe Process inspired the Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. His work is present in the form of approximately twenty-five colour prints and fifty projected photos. A special item is on loan from the German Museum in Munich: The original projector with which Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii exhibited his work to Nicholas II, the last tsar. In 1909, as a result of this presentation, Prokudin-Gorskii received a commission to record the Russian Empire in 10,000 photos. Between 1909 and 1915, Gorskii made several thousand photographs of great brilliance. He documented the cultural diversity of the tsarist empire from the Crimean Peninsula to Siberia.