“Color is just a word to those who cannot see it.” – Sanne De Wilde
In the great expanse of the South Pacific, northeast of Papua New Guinea and southwest of Hawaii, lies Pingelap Atoll, a collection of three small islands in Micronesia. Only the largest of these islands, which is less than 2.5 miles wide at its widest point, is inhabited. Despite the small size of their home, the 250 or so residents of Pingelap have attracted a fair bit of attention from researchers, scientists and now, artists.
The island is also known as The Island of the Colorblind. This name came from neurologist and scientist Oliver Sacks who visited the area to learn more about a genetic situation that resulted in approximately 10% of the population having an extreme version of total colorblindness called “complete achromatopsia.” Achromatics are extremely sensitive to bright lights and experience the world largely in shades of gray.
As the legend goes, the island’s population nearly died off after a devastating typhoon in 1775. One of the survivors, the ruler, who happened to have this rare gene, was successful in repopulating the island which led to the spreading of this condition.
Belgian photographer Sanne De Wilde has used the island and the concept of color blindness to inspire a series of images on genetics. During a visit to Pingelap in 2015, she created photos showing the world as a colorblind person might see it.
To challenge her own understanding of color, she photographed the island in black and white and used infrared filters and technology. She also asked residents who have total colorblindness to paint over black and white images with watercolors. Although these individuals cannot see the different colors, the painted photographs show a kaleidoscope of hues.
In addition to capturing everyday scenes on the island, De Wilde also completed a series of portraits of some of the achromats. She photographed them using long exposure in order to capture their blinking in response to the bright lights. The result is a haunting, 19th Century-esque image, where the subjects’ eyes appear to be open and closed.
The full collection of the artist’s photographs is available in a book, titled “The Island of the Colorblind Sanne De Wilde.” It is available for purchase on Amazon and the co-publisher’s websites (Uitgeverij Kanibaal and Kehrer Verlag).
“The Island of the Colorblind Sanne De Wilde” Preview: