Early Ethnography

Banks of the Nile
R: Charles Urban. P: Charles Urban Trading Company. UK 1911

“The most significant figure in the early British film industry was an American of German parentage who was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1867. First establishing himself as a travelling book salesman, Charles Urban moved to Detroit in 1889 and ran a stationery shop before becoming a phonograph salesman. By 1895 he was managing a Kinetoscope and phonograph parlour in Detroit. In 1896 he obtained the agency rights for the Edison Vitascope projector for Michigan, before developing his own projector, the Bioscope. In 1897 he was made manager of the English branch of the American firm of Maguire and Baucus, agents for Edison films in Europe. Establishing the business in London’s Warwick Court, in 1898 he reformed the film business as the Warwick Trading Company and began to produce his own films, as well as marketing the Bioscope.
Urban’s most notable professional association, however, was with G.A. Smith. Urban first handled Smith’s films and employed him as a film processor, then in 1902 directed Smith to work on an improvement to the experimental, unworkable Lee and Turner film colour process. Kinemacolor, a two-colour additive system employing red and green filters, patented by Smith in 1906 and launched publicly in 1908, was the first successful natural motion picture colour system and added considerable lustre to Urban’s name. In 1903 Urban broke away from Warwick to form the Charles Urban Trading Company (trademark Urbanora, slogan ‘We Put the World Before You’), reinforcing his reputation as a supplier of quality documentary film, but also diversifying to form the Natural Color Kinematograph Company (exploiting Kinemacolor), the Kineto company, and the French firm Éclipse.”
Adapted from Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema (BFI, 1996) eds. Stephen Herbert and Luke McKernan
Charles Urban

K: Stéphane Passet. P: Les Archives de la Planète/Albert Kahn. Fr 1913

“Albert Kahn (1860-1940) was a French banker and philanthropist, known for initiating The Archives of the Planet, a vast photographical project. (…)
In 1909, Kahn travelled with his chauffeur and photographer, Alfred Dutertre to Japan on business and returned with many photographs of the journey. This prompted him to begin a project collecting a photographic record of the entire Earth. He appointed Jean Brunhes as the project director, and sent photographers to every continent to record images of the planet using the first practical medium for colour photography, autochrome plates, and early cinematography. Between 1909 and 1931 they collected 72,000 colour photographs and 183,000 meters of film. These form a unique historical record of 50 countries, known as The Archives of the Planet.
Kahn’s photographers began documenting France in 1914, just days before the outbreak of World War I, and by liaising with the military managed to record both the devastation of war, and the struggle to continue everyday life and agricultural work.”