In 1903, the Lumière brothers patented autochrome, the first technique for producing colour photographs.
Not long after the technology’s release, Albert Kahn, a Franco-Jewish financier-turned-philanthropist, set about creating a photographic record of the entire world. He sent photographers to every continent, and they returned with reels of film and photographs. By the end of Kahn’s project in 1931, he had amassed 180,000 metres of film and more than 72,000 autochrome photographic plates. He called the collection ‘Archives of the Planet’.
This was one of the earliest collections of its kind, and certainly the first colour photographic project not only to span the world, but to document the lives of ordinary people. Despite being just a century ago, many of these shots look like they're from a completely different planet.
The full collection can be obtained from BBC Books, but here is a taster for the kind of photos Kahn produced.
Note also something you may have discovered from your own family research: until the mid-20th century, it was not customary to smile when being photographed.
Enjoy, and remember you can click any of these to enlarge the shot.