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Color Photography of Early 1900s Paris (curiouseggs.com)
181 points by caublestone on Jan 25, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

These pictures are part of a huge collection assembled by the banker Albert Kahn: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Kahn_(banker)

Other pictures (about 1200) from the Albert Kahn collection, from other parts of the world: http://albert-kahn.hauts-de-seine.net/archives-de-la-planete...

There are some wonderful pictures in that collection. My preferred are the ones with people living in a way that doesn't exist anymore like the ones from the Ottoman Empire (Turkey), Ireland, Benin and South East Asia.

There's also a BBC series titled The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn that includes a selection of images and film with a little commentary thrown in for context. I really enjoyed it.


Russian version: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/08/russia_in_color_a_c...

The photographs were taken on three black and white plates with RGB filters in front of them, and could only be seen projected on a screen.

This is an article describing how the original images were composed to create the color version http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/empire/making.html this is about the russian guy, Prokudin-Gorskii, but the process he used to take the pictures was the same.

On the LOC website you can see the originals and composite http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/prk2000000200/

One interesting detail is that each colour exposure was temporally separated by a small amount, which caused vibrantly colourful artefacts on the images where the subjects moved - as can be seen on picture 27 in your first link, and more subtly in picture 15.

Some of the ones at the LOC, even more so. Moving water has a particularly curious, shimmering quality.

I'm amazed at how the color changes the emotional response I have for these kinds of pictures. My mental image of 100 years ago seems very abstract, as if events and people from that time have the same reality of Sherlock Holmes. Somehow the color drives home the reality of where and who these people were. It makes me wonder what effect color pictures, or even better - color movies, from hundreds or thousands of years would have.

This had a bizarre reaction on me also, feels very disconcerting/jarring seeing things like this in color and I can't quite understand why!

Agreed. I was struck by how similar things look. It makes me feel small.

Other than the number of cars (more), balloons (fewer) and soldiers (fewer), Paris looks pretty similar today.

Could be interesting to juxtapose old/actual photos I immediately recognized this perspective, in the (nowadays) turkish district : http://i.imgur.com/Lj5guCF.jpg vs http://goo.gl/maps/d7rDc

There's a picture art book called Revisiting Eugene Atget's Paris which compares a famous photographers' early 20th century photographs of Paris and similarly-exposed black and white shots from the same position almost 100 years later

You're right, Atget's work is also particularly interesting! Here's a link to some of his pictures: http://openpn.tumblr.com/tagged/Atget

Yup, just noticed how the modern pharmacy sign on the left is in the same location as a very similar (though red instead of green) sign ~100 years ago.

Like many major European cities. You'll struggle to find a building in Rome's center that didn't exist 150 years ago.

Germany being an exception.

And Rotterdam...

I was going to say the same thing; there are no more horse-drawn carriages on the city's bridges and the dresses have changed a lot, but the buildings and general surroundings, and night scenes are very identical today.

Paris never ages...

Also dramatically less advertising (though even today Paris doesn't have that much.)

Cool photos. Thanks for the comments pointing to the set of photos of Russia in the Library of Congress collection posted a while ago here on Hacker News.

For this set of photos of Paris, especially cool is to post a link to


(a multilingual website) on the basis of the Hacker News guideline

"Please submit the original source. If a blog post reports on something they found on another site, submit the latter."


While I generally agree with that sentiment, I'm actually very grateful for the "blogspam" version that was linked to.

The http://www.paris1914.com/ site has the worst user experience I've seen in quite a while. Somebody went to a lot of work to make the site have all those bells and whistles, and they totally blew it. It's just ridiculous! I move the mouse over a picture and the picture flips around to show me some info about it. OK, but what happened to the picture? I wanted to see the picture. So I try to click, and that only works half the time. You have to catch it quick before it flips around to display the title card. Good luck with that. Then if the click registers, it does this weird two-way-but-not-both-at-once animation and finally shows me the picture. Then I can close that, lose my place, and pick some other picture to look at more or less randomly.

This is NOT the way to make a photo gallery.

By contrast, the "blogspam" page has all the pictures in a simple page that I can scroll up and down. Nothing fancy, nothing I can't figure out, and no way to lose my place.

I was showing these pictures to a friend and it would have taken a good half hour to poke our way through the paris1914 site. But thanks to the blogspam page, we were able to enjoy all the photos in the time we had, without having to fumble through some kind of misguided navigation.

Again, I don't disagree with your point about posting original sources, but in this specific case, the blogspam was very beneficial to me at least.

Edit: So I thought to myself, maybe I should give this thing another chance. Once you get one of the photos open, maybe you can just skip from photo to photo right there? Indeed you can, and it even has a keyboard interface: the left and right arrows work just as expected.

But what's all this scrolling? It doesn't just change photos like a slide show, it does an enormous sideways scroll of the whole thing. It's very disorienting visually and not at all fun.

Beautiful. Similarly, Prokudin-Gorskii travelled Tsarist Russia in the decade before the revolution, taking fantastic color photographs with three plates and color filters: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/empire/

Everytime I look at historical photography my first thought is "All of those people are dead." And yet, here we are with as many humans as ever and the world is still alive and ticking.

Startup/business takeaway: don't underestimate humankind's ability to transition into and out of roles while keeping the machinery moving.


Original source: http://www.paris1914.com/

Wow. Paris hasn't changed that much other than the cars.

Wonderful. But the site's zoom setting don't allow for expanding the post/photos to the width of an iPad. Very frustrating.

The comment "It is extremely astonishing to look at the world now long gone, the world which you are used to see in black & white images and often with poor quality." is a bit off the mark. Black and white pictures, by and large, were excellent quality. eg look at Atget's pictures of Paris from the same date (although done on much older equipment) http://www.googleartproject.com/en-gb/artist/eug%C3%A8ne-atg... or https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Photographs_by_E...

This was right on the Eve of World War I. Sad to think that many of the young men in uniform probably died in the trenches at Marne or Verdun over the next several years.

These pictures are part of an huge collection made by the banker Albert Kahn (I posted 2 links in another comment).

There are hundreds of them taken in the trenches of WWI in Central Europe, Balkans and the Ottoman Empire. It is quite shocking to see how the poor and simple people where impacted by the war.

Does anyone else collect early European postcards? I have a good few hundred of them and am interested in collaborating to start an online museum.

My favorite : The one with the Michelin balloon which I think was taken at Le Palais de la Decouverte (not 100% sure)

I'm almost sure it was taken at the Grand Palais.


right, same building.

This one [1] is hard to believe as it's a low-exposure night shot. I was under the impression they lacked the technology to do that even in B/W back then, no?

[1] http://i.imgur.com/IHt7ypS.jpg

Iùl not deep enough in photographer jargon to be sure I interpreted your mention of "low exposure" correctly, but as I'd see it, that photo is of low average exposure, and "normal" exposure on the light sources. And the fireworks do look superposed: that hints at long exposure, which "cameras" have been able to do before we even had camera lens.

I think that picture must be from 1937, as it seems to depict the german and soviet pavilion from the expo (as seen here on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:La_Tour_Eiffel_en_1937_con...)

TIL that neon lights were invented in the early 1900's.

Also: that first picture is a subway station.

Black and white photos make the past seem so much further away. The colors truly make them feel real. Its hard to believe it was so long ago with such vividness.

Indeed. Here is a picture (http://i4.minus.com/ibokGCW1TVxmUA.jpg) which has been colorized.

(It is Ulysses Grant btw.)

His clothing looks out of date, but it just seems so real.

(Photo shamelessly stolen from www.reddit.com/r/colorizedhistory)

Mieux Que Nue [better than nude] at the Moulin Rouge.

Wow. Paris doesn't look like its changed much.

Where are all the people? Paris today has the same buildings, but is overrun by people and cars!

Beautiful, but it's too bad that the digital reproductions are so noisy.

If you're talking about what I think you're talking about, it's not digital noise. It's an artifact of the Autochrome process. The images are made with colored grains of potato starch. It's a fascinating process that (to my knowledge) has never been successfully reproduced in modern times.


That's really interesting---I assumed it was just really bad JPEG compression!

Wow - those are great.

Paris (France). If I could snap my fingers and change one thing about how Americans communicate, it would surely be to stop them saying Paris, France. Or London, England. Or Moscow, Russia. Or ... many similar examples. Please abandon this whole meme. Normal people know where the great cities of the world are.

Yeah, if there's any such thing as a "Normal" person.

When discussing the salience of possible referents context is the major determinant, especially with things like geographical proximity to one of a possible set of similarly named cities.

If someone in Columbus, Ohio (as opposed to Georgia) is discussing travelling to London, there's a non-trivial possibility that they were talking about London, Ohio, rather than London, England.

Traveling Southwestern Ontario provides similar circumstance, given that the British decided to name the entire province after England. London (Ontario) sits at the fork of the Thames River, an hours drive from Stratford, which likewise rests on the Avon.

So sure, maybe if you live in Europe, "normal" people always use "London" to refer to the UK, but "normal" people in Toronto, probably mean the city in Ontario when they use the name.

tl;dr: you're being a cultural imperialist.

I regret using the word "normal". However I am not being a cultural imperialist. Sure, disambiguate where it makes sense. It would make sense for people in Ontario to disambiguate London often. Paris, not so much. There is absolutely no need for disambiguation in an article meant for a wide audience and featuring iconic cityscapes complete with the Eiffel tower etc! The "Paris, France" meme is endemic in North American media but completely absent in the rest of the English speaking world.

You mean like Paris, Texas; Moscow, Idaho; and, London, Connecticut?

There is no need to add "France" to disambiguate Paris because Paris is an iconic location familiar to every educated person in the world. If you want to identify an obscure town in Texas that shares the same name, clearly you do need to add "Texas" to disambiguate.

I believe it's more about habits than pedantry. The "new world" has tons of duplicate city names. Aside from those already quoted, there are also Vancouver, BC and Vancouver, Washington cities that are only separated by 300 miles, and the famous and ubiquitous Springfield. In Germany and France, it seems that when two cities share the same name, the name of the nearest river is often used for disambiguation (e.g. Romilly-sur-Seine/Romilly-sur-Andelle, Frankfurt am Main/Frankfurt an der Oder). Americans seem to prefer state names, and it seems they interpolated this habit on the international level.

I agree that it's a habit and absolutely not pedantry. I am arguing that when applied unnecessarily (Paris, France when it's an international news story, an action movie set in glamorous European locations, or a set of charming early 20th century Paris cityscapes) it's an unthinking habit that shows a lack of respect for the intelligence of the audience and reflects a media "dumbing down" trend. I also suspect you are right about the origin of this habit being disambiguation using state names, and extension of that to the international level.

Stop trolling, bro.

England too: "Newcastle upon Tyne", "Stoke on Trent".

I believe you're arguing with a particularly useless troll anyway.

That would be much more relevant if the name of Paris was Paris sur Seine. It's not. Your accusation that I am useless and a troll is uncharitable and unfounded. This is particularly disappointing given that it seems that (judging from your other comments) you are normally an intelligent and thoughtful commentator.

I see nothing about this particular hobbyhorse of yours that is relevant or useful.

The assumption that you were trolling was the charitable one. This is a very petty issue to start a thread-derailing argument about.

Thank you for at least providing me with your reasoning this time. I will respectfully disagree with you. It's hardly a hobbyhorse, I am not the chairman of the "Stop Paris, France" society. It's the 8,345,235th most important thing in my life. I happen to think it's an interesting thing, it's certainly something that amuses countless non-American people. Several other people commented in a civil way, not all of them disagreed with me, maybe they thought it was interesting too. Perhaps I am imagining it, but just about every thread on Hacker News gets derailed to a certain extent, the side-issues and byways that get explored are one of the things that give Hacker News its charm.

Incidentally, as a non-American who happens to love America and things American I have found myself in the past trying to defend the habit in conversation with others; "Well, it makes sense, you see there is a Paris in Texas too". Eventually I realised the cause was hopeless and gave up, "No, you're right it's just a crazy habit they have".

Anyway, enough, as you say it's a tiny thing. I will move on.

What about Boston? That's an example of the newer city being more important, globally speaking than the original. Or what about Cambridge - that one's especially unclear because it can refer to two cities with great universities.

It work both ways: you probably wouldn't need to say "Boston, USA" to save people from making the assumption you meant the small town in Lincolnshire and not the New England capital, or "Melbourne, Australia" to identify that you meant the cultural capital of Australia and not a small market town in Derbyshire.

Cambridge is more or less the only exception when it comes to Anglophone cities with the same name and similar levels of international fame

I don't understand your point. I don't doubt for a minute there is a list of places as long as your arm also named Paris (or London, or Berlin or whatever). Consider the following scenario, you are shooting an action movie and you have a scene setting shot, a panoramic Paris flyover, complete with the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel tower etc. etc. Do you think adding a "Paris, France" annotation shows respect for the intelligence of your audience ? Or not ?

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