Behind the camera: Stéphane Passet
Where: Near near Örgöö (anglicised as Urga) now known as Ulaanbaatar
Photo Summary: A women is imprisoned in a box as some sort of punishment.
Albert Kahn ID: A 3 973
Picture Taken: July 25, 1913
In the early 20th-century French Financial Banker, Albert Kahn sent a team of photographers around the world to take colour photos using the Autochrome Lumière process. In 1913 one of Kahn’s photographers, Stéphane Passet was touring Mongolia taking photos where he took the photo of the Mongolian woman in a box. Passet’s photos along with others on Kahn’s team amassed 72,000 colour photographs and 183,000 meters of film into a unique historical record of 50 countries, known as The Archives of the Planet. Some of these photos, were in turn, published in a book, The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet.
In 1903 Auguste and Louis Lumière pioneered a colour photography process. By 1907 they started marketing it around the world. It was popular until it was slowly replaced by products from companies like Kodak who began to produce multi-layer subtractive colour films in the 1930s. Autochrome still remained popular in its native country France and released updated and new versions of its film as late as 1952. However, due to autochrome’s incredibly complicated means of exhibiting the photos, it was discontinued in 1955.
Taking the photo
When Stéphane Passet took the photo he wrote as the description, “Le supplice d’une femme condamnée à mort pour adultère” which roughly translates as, “the torture of a woman condemned to death for adultery.” Immurement, the name of the method of imprisonment where the prisoner is walled up or placed in a box, usually until death, was used as a form of punishment in Mongolia. The New Zealand newspaper, The Herald, published in a February 17, 1914, report that Mongolia used Immurement as its method of execution.
It is not known how Passet came across this info as he most likely would not have spoken Mongolian and probably would have relied on guides. Shown in the photo are bowls of food and water for the prisoner. This could have been a form of torture to prolong the inevitable death from exposure or it could show that the punishment was meant to be temporary and she would eventually be released.
In the 1922 issue of National Geographic, this photo was published with the caption “Mongolian prisoner in a box”. The National Geographic writers probably used Passet’s caption that the woman was condemned to die of starvation as a punishment for adultery. Repeating his claim as they wouldn’t have the means to fact check.
The Kahn archive has Stéphane Passet photos from India, the Far East and the Middle East. During WWI he was a war photographer that took many colour autochrome photos. After the war, he also documented the rebuilding effort in war-torn France and Belgium.