Photo History 101: Rare Color Photos of Paris in the Early 1900s

There is a school of thought that proposes the Earth is home to a smattering of “sacred sites” — energy centers, places of mystery and wonder — earth Chakras some call them. The Pyramids. Lake Titicaca. Mt. Fuji. You get it. I don’t know if Paris is on that list, but it should be. There’s a magic to that city, so much so that I lived there for a few years not all that long ago and get back there on the regular a couple times each year.

So it was with serious interest that I ravaged through these extremely rare color photographs of Paris taken in the early 1900s that recently crossed my desk. And I’ll admit to a fair amount of digging (thanks for the help Ben) to validate their authenticity (I was sure they were hand colored or Photoshop fakes), but rest assured these are no fakes.

Students of photography and its history (um… both of you) will appreciate that these here stills were taken using the “Autochrome Lumière” technology, a tricky process patented in 1903 by the wonderous Lumière brothers of France. These gents were the real deal. The pointillist… say, slightly impressionist quality of the photographs is a result of the coarseness of the dyed starch that coated the glass plate and served as the original “color filter” idea. [photo apps, eat your heart out – this shiz is the real deal]

All the images featured below were shot between 1907 and 1930 – many of them the work of a banker named Albert Kahn, who sent Autochrome photographers across continents to create what he called the “Archives of the Planet.” Who said bankers weren’t creative? Put that it your abacus pipe and smoke it – happy weekend.

[All images here – courtesy of the Albert Kahn Museum. Much gratitude and respect. Amusez-vous bien!]

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Cedric says:

Amazing photos, I am impressed they found these somewhere.

These pictures are amazing and it’s so rare to see pictures from this era in color! I love the subtle pastels.

Aric Hoek says:

I can’t tell what those balloons are. Do you think it was an art project? They look like big oranges.

marc says:

You need to get a copy or somehow view the BBC documentary about Albert Kahn. Edwardians in Colour: The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn. It’s astonishing.

mbub says:

The fireworks image can’t be that early in the 1900s – in the background you can see the German and Russian pavilions getting very competitive. So it must be in or after 1937 (Agfa had introduced their color reversal film in ’36).
Sorry for nitpicking.

Tj says:

Our past is our future and these images tell the story of a grand place. The uniforms, fashions and flags may change but Paris is an eternal ideal.

faisal says:

These photos are gold, well shot.

Nate says:

If you don’t already own it, be sure to get a copy of “The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn” by David Okuefuna. An excellent book for a rainy day to enjoy.

Bruce Ando says:

are there hand colored like Wallace Nutting’s work?

Linda says:

Kate and you must love these interesting and lovely reminders of France from the past.

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