Between 1909 and 1931, the French Jewish banker and philanthropist Albert (born Abraham) Kahn dispatched a small army of photographers to the far corners of the globe, with the goal of documenting as many cultures and civilizations as possible. By the time the project came to a halt after the Wall Street crash of 1929, which cost Kahn his fortune, he had amassed 72,000 color photographs as well as 183,000 meters of film. A BBC documentary “The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn,” showing this week on the specialty arts network Ovation, tells the story of Kahn’s “Archives of the Planet,” one of the most ambitious photographic projects ever undertaken.
Born in 1860 to a Jewish family in Marmoutier, Bas-Rin, France, Kahn became a bank clerk at the age of 19 while studying under the philosopher Henri Bergson. Though he eventually gave up his scholarly career to became an associate of the powerful Goudchaux bank, Kahn’s house and garden in Boulogne-Billancourt became a meeting place for artists and intellectuals such as Anatole France, Rudyard Kipling, Colette, Albert Einstein, Andre Gide and Auguste Rodin.