Saturday, December 8, 2012

Color Images of Ireland from 1913

Claddagh, Co. Galway, Ireland

The entirety of this post is taken from Turtle Bunbury's Wistorical page in Facebook. You can see the original here.

In May 1913, Marguerite Mespoulet and Madeleine Mignon, two French women in their early 30s, arrived in Co. Galway, armed with heavy cameras and, more importantly the Autochrome Lumière plates, which enabled them to produce the first colour images of Ireland.

Their assignment to photograph the people of Galway was part of a massive project entitled ‘The Archives of the Planet’ sponsored by a wealthy French banker and philanthropist called Albert Kahn.

These photographs show that old Ireland was by no means as austere as traditional black and white photographs imply. As well as the brown bogs, yellowing gorse and grey skies, the two French ladies captured the people of Claddagh and Spiddal wearing costumes so colourful they would not be out of place in the Himalayas.

In her journal, Mespoulet wrote: ‘The young men leave for North America, the young women too and when the old die the house is abandoned and falls into ruin. There is hardly a village where one doesn't find forlorn skeletons of small grey houses invaded by nettles.’

Kahn went on to lose his fortune with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, but his immense Archive amassed some 72,000 color photographs between 1909-1931, including 73 of Ireland by Mespoulet and Mignon.

You can see a slide show of these early Irish photographs here

The photographs, recognized as one of the finest collections in the world, now reside at the site of Kahn’s garden in the Musee Albert Kahn at 14, Rue du Port, Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris.

Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds a collection of Mespoulet's papers. As far as I can tell, there's still masses to learn from Kahn's exceptional project, so if anyone out there is seeking a new line of hobby ...

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