Bygone times: The incredible colour photos that capture a world on the brink of permanent change

They are considered to be part of one of the most important collections of early colour photographs ever seen, capturing key moments in history and the dying embers of many cultures.

And now - more than a century after the ambitious project was launched - these incredible images are being brought to a mass audience for the first time.
In 1909, the millionaire French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn embarked on a project to create a colour photographic record of the world and its people.

Stunning: The hustle and bustle of the Thames in early 20th Century London is captured in this image

Remarkable: A traditional horse and cart passes through central London during a time of great celebration

Time long gone: One of the first ever colour photographs from America

Traditional: These workmen are brought back to life in this every day scene from the Marne area of France

Wonder: This picture is one of the earliest-known colour photographs of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India

Rare: A picture of the camera-shy Albert Kahn at his Paris office in 1914

Using his huge fortune, Mr Kahn sent a group of photographers to more than fifty countries around the world.

The intrepid photographers took the earliest known colour photographs in countries such as the United States, Brazil, Vietnam, Mongolia, Norway and Benin.

With the First World War and the beginnings of twentieth century globalisation, it was a time of great change with old cultures on the brink of being changed forever.

As an idealist and internationalist, Mr Kahn believed he could use autochrome - the first industrial process for true colour photography - to promote peace and understanding across the world's differing cultures.

The incredibly clear photographs documented historic moments in history including the collapse of both the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires and the last traditional Celtic villages in Ireland just a few years before they were demolished.

The pictures also show soldiers of the First World War attempting the normalities of life in the trenches, such as cooking meals and cleaning their uniforms.

Historic: One of Albert Kahn's intrepid photographers was dispatched to Egypt to take stunning colour photographs of the Egyptian pyramids

Uniting the world: The ambition of Albert Kahn's project is captured in this early 20th Century image of China, with two curious youngsters watching the photographer at work

Amazing: This picture was taken in the then West African country of Dahomey - which is now the Republic of Benin. For these villagers it was most likely the first time they had seen a camera

Revealing: The culture of Algeria was brought to life in this picture, which was part of Albert Kahn's attempt to promote peace and understanding across the world

Bygone times: This picture taken in Canada appears to show cowboys out at work in a field

Sadly, the Archives of the Planet project was brought to an end in 1931 after the Wall Street Crash dramatically reduced Mr Kahn's financial empire to nothing.

He died in 1940 but his images are now considered to be one of the most important collections of early colour photographs in the world.

Until recently the huge collection of 72,000 autochromes - still kept at the Musee Albert-Kahn, in the grounds of his estate near Paris - remained almost unheard of.

But thanks to a new BBC book, The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn, and the television series which accompanies it, his amazing pictures are being brought to a mass audience for the first time.

Opening up the world: A traditional scene from Vietnam. This picture is one of the earliest-known colour photographs from the country

Wonderful: A wealthy-looking Vietnamese woman relaxing at home is captured by one of Albert Kahn's photographers

Different times: Revealing how the world has since changed, this picture shows a traditional-looking couple in Holland in the early 20th Century

Personal: A smartly dressed woman playing at a piano. It is not clear which country this picture was taken in

Changing world: The earliest versions of cars can be seen in this early 20th Century Canadian street