The cover picture was taken in July 1913 by the French photographer Stéphane Passet, sent along with other photographers all over the world by Albert Kahn. Kahn was a banker from Paris, one of the pioneers and propagator of the colour photography and that pushed his own photographers to utilise the process invented by the Lumière Brothers, called Autochrome. He funded an expedition across the world to report habits and customs of the people of their own epoch, by using several photographers who took 72,000 pictures, a historical archive of inestimable value called “The Archives of the Planet”.
Passet crossed the state of Mongolia, where he photographed this woman, sentenced to death out of starvation and privation inside the wooden chest, destined to turn into her coffin. For the execution, they initially used to place bowls at the side of the chest, and every now and then they used to leave water and food to lengthen the extremely painful death. The photographer did not interfere and decided to leave the woman inside the box for not altering the balance of the laws and the local civilisation.
The picture was published on National Geographic in 1922 under the caption “Mongolian prisoner in a box”. The published affirmed how the woman was sentenced to death as a punishment for adultery. The truthfulness of the statement was often questioned, but the authenticity of the photograph is undoubted.
Immurement (from Latin im – murus, literally “to brick up”) is a form of imprisonment, usually that leads to the end of life, for which a person is closed in a space with no way out. Often, when it is used as means of execution, the prisoner is left to die of starvation or dehydration. The Immurement was performed in Mongolia certainly during the 1st part of the 20th century, substituted then by shooting, then in 2012 the death penalty was abolished.
Being bricked up alive not always was leading to death but it could represent a form of torture, like in China, where the prisoners were kept inside closed up boxes where they could not lay or stand up and they were seeing the daylight only for a few seconds, when the food was given to them through a tiny hole.
Below: the picture is inside the book “The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet” available on Amazon