The Albert Kahn Museum in France has officially released over 25,000 early color photos from the 20th century into the public domain, where they can serve as free historical stock photos. They’ve also made 34,000 additional early color photos available for free use.
The collection, which is called the Archives of the Planet, was originally created to document human life throughout the world. Many of the images use the early autochrome Lumiere process, which is one of the earliest color photography techniques.
The autochrome Lumiere process used colored grains of potato starch as part of its procedure and was incredibly challenging to perform properly. That makes it all the more remarkable that so many early color images were captured in this archive.
Although the images have technically been available as free historical stock photos for years, getting high-resolution versions was challenging. Now, the museum has created an easy system for people to download high-resolution copies.
Perhaps most importantly, the system also includes extensive metadata and descriptions for each image.
Heads up: The museum’s website is in French. If you’re not a speaker of the language, navigating it may be challenging. Petapixel reports, however, that Google Translate does a good job making the site accessible to non-French speakers.
License Historical Color Photos
Although this image collection is a great find for those seeking free historical photos, sometimes you need assurance of a license. In that case, there are a variety of options.
Take a look at our gallery of early autochrome linear images from Getty Images. All of these can be licensed for a variety of uses.
We also recommend that you take a look at the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection from Johns Hopkins University, one of our historical photo collections. In many cases, historical events and personalities were depicted in color lithographs on the covers of sheet music before the dawn of photography.
It was the popular visual medium of the time, a bit like television or social media today!
If you’re looking for early color images of events like the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, or everyday life in the 19th and 18th centuries, the Levy collection is a great option.
Another Source of Free Historical Color Photos
If you need other early, but not quite as early, free historical color stock photos, you can check out the Gado Images collection of over 1,000 Kodachrome images from the 1950s to 1980s, hosted by the Internet Archive.
We’re always excited to see more free historical stock photos available. The Archives of the Planet collection is an exciting new release.