Albert Kahn is the best philanthropist you’ve likely never heard of. I hadn’t, anyway, until I was pointed to the Russian website History and Present via Reddit user Hanfresco a little earlier. The top post, published Tuesday, features a sampling of color photos taken in China by French photographer Stephane Passy in 1912, commissioned by — who else? — Albert Kahn.
Kahn, you see, was somewhat of an aficionado for visual arts. A French banker, he is described on his website as an “idealist” and “internationalist.” He “believed that he could use the new autochrome process, the world’s first user-friendly, true-colour photographic system, to promote cross-cultural peace and understanding.” He recruited a team of photographers and sent them to more than 50 countries, and the pictures they came back with turned out to be some of the earliest color images from places as disparate as Vietnam, Brazil, the Middle East, China, and even the US. A compilation — culled from 72,000 autochromes — was arranged for a 2008 book called The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn.
We sample more China pictures after the jump, but you’re encouraged to check out the Albert Kahn website for more images and information about the man:
At the start of 1929 Kahn was still one of the richest men in Europe. Later that year the Wall Street Crash reduced his financial empire to rubble and in 1931 he was forced to bring his project to an end. Kahn died in 1940. His legacy, still kept at the Musée Albert-Kahn in the grounds of his estate near Paris, is now considered to be the most important collection of early colour photographs in the world.