Albania and Kosova in Colour | 1913

The Autochromes of the Albert Kahn Collection

Edited by Gerda Mulder & Richard van den Brink

ISBN 978-90-76905-25-9 Skanderbeg Books, Tirana 2008/2010 105 pp. In 1895, French banker and philanthropist, Albert Kahn (1860- 1940) bought a villa and four hectares of land on the Seine in Boulogne, southwest of Paris. Here on the property neighbouring that of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, he began work on his now-famous gardens (the French garden and rose garden, the English garden, the Japanese garden and village, the Vosges forest, the blue forest, etc.). It was here, in addition to his good friend, the French sculptor August Rodin (1840-1917), that he welcomed many noted figures of the age, among whom were the French poet and essayist Paul Valéry (1871- 1945), the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the French sculptor Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929), the German physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955), King Peter I of Serbia (1844-1921), King Alexander of Serbia (1888-1934), Queen Elisabeth of Belgium (1876-1965), and the British statesmen Lord Robert Cecil (1864-1958) and Sir Austen Chamberlain (1863-1937). Yet, Albert Kahn was and remained a very private person. Although he was to become a major figure in the history of photography, there are very few photos of the fellow himself. Albert Kahn decided to devote his talents to international peace by promoting dialogue between all strata of French and international society. To this end, he created a number of institutions to promote global understanding and co-operation. The first of these was the Around the World (Autour du Monde) Programme, 1898-1930, which awarded scholarships to future teachers to enable them to travel abroad and see the world. His National Committee of Social and Political Studies (Comité national d’études sociales et politiques), 1916-1932, sought to bring together specialists from various countries to debate and search for solutions to the many problems facing humanity at the time. Last but not least was the project, Archives of the Planet (Archives de la Planète), an ambitious undertaking which sought to record human cultures around the world in black-and-white and colour photography and in film... To this end, he sent photographers and cinematographers to scour the “surface of the globe occupied and fashioned by man, as it appears at the beginning of the twentieth century.” Between 1909 and 1931, 72,000 autochromes and 170,000 metres of film footage were made by photographers and cinematographers in almost fifty countries. The Albert Kahn collection was and remains the most important assemblages of autochromes in the world. The first mission which Professor Jean Brunhes (1869-1930) planned for the Archives of the Planet was to be to the Balkans. The exact itineraries of that mission are not entirely clear. We do know that Jean Brunhes and Auguste Léon were in Bosnia just before the outbreak of the first Balkan War in early October 1912, and that they photographed Banja Luka, Jajce, Mostar and Sarajevo. Their voyage through Kosova took place in May 1913, with autochromes being made in Prishtina, Gracanica, Lipjan and Prizren. From Kosova, the team carried on via Skopje to Thessalonica, where Léon took sixty-nine colour photos of the town. They then travelled to Bursa in Asia Minor. The mission to Albania itself took place in the autumn of that year. Coming from Montenegro, Brunhes and Léon arrived in the port of Durrës on or about 16 October 1913. This is, at any rate, the date of the first autochromes taken there. From Durrës, they proceeded over the Erzen river, under the protection of Essad Pasha Toptani (1864-1920) to Tirana where they spent two days. From Tirana, they returned to Durrës and sailed to Bar in Montenegro from where they continued their journey to Shkodra on 21 October 1913. Shkodra, which was the last Ottoman stronghold in the Balkans, had fallen to Montenegrin forces on 22 April 1913, and much of the town lay in ruins due to the fighting. The following day, 22 October 1913, the mission set off northwards to Rijeka Crnojevica and from there to Cetinje, the old capital of Montenegro. The art of Auguste Léon is matchless in an age of upheaval. The spectacular autochromes of the Kahn collection - 97 early colour photographs of Albania and 94 of Kosova, of which a selection has been made and is being presented here for the first time - are unique in the history of Albanian and Balkan photography. They are the priceless jewels of Albert Kahn’s colourful dream, the archives of the planet. Buy this Book on AMAZON
Robert Elsie