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Vancouver Was Awesome: Archives of the Planet, 1926

A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense .

A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.

Albert Kahn was a stinking rich French photographer when he discovered colour photography not long after the Lumière brothers made their patented autochrome process -- the first user-friendly colour film process -- commercially available in 1907. Between 1909 and 1931 when he lost his fortune, Kahn sent photographers around the world to create a documentary record of and for the peoples of the world. He was an idealist and internationalist, and conceived of this "Archives of the Planet" project "to promote cross-cultural peace and understanding."

Curiously, considering Kahn's mandate for the project, the photographer he sent to Vancouver in 1926, Frédéric Gadmer, focused on capturing land- and streetscapes rather than people, hence the empty Georgia Street scene above showing the second Hotel Vancouver. If you look closely, however, there are some faint blurs that are likely pedestrian victims of a long exposure.

Autochrome photos have a painterly quality that make them resemble hand-tinted images often used on much earlier post cards, so a colour photo from the 1920s might not appear so novel. Nevertheless, this photo is probably among the first ones of Vancouver actually taken in colour.

Kahn's archive grew to 72,000 autochrome plates (in addition to 180,000 metres of black and white film) from all over the globe. His project has only received significant attention in recent years, but some now consider his autochromes "the most important collection of early colour photographs in the world."

Most of the colour pics from the Archives of the Planet project are held at the Albert-Kahn Musée et Jardins, and you can view more on their site, including a couple more of Vancouver.

Source: Photo by Frédéric Gadmer, via The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn's Archives of the Planet by David Okuefuna (Princeton University Press, 2008)