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The Island of the Colorblind

May 18, 2020

Relating to the theme of TLmag’s 31st print edition, Islands of Creation, we present an extract from ‘The Island of the Colourblind’ by Dutch photographer Sanne de Wilde.

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Text by Sanne de Wilde
Photography by Sanne de Wilde

In the late eighteenth century, a catastrophic typhoon swept over Pingelap, a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean. One of the sole survivors, the king, carried the rare achromatopsia-gen that causes complete colour-blindness. The king went on to have many children and as time passed by, the hereditary condition affected the isolated community and most islanders started seeing the world in black and white.

Achromatopsia is characterized by extreme light sensitivity, poor vision, and complete inability to distinguish colours. Achromats in Federated States of Micronesia adapt to their reduced level of visual functioning (due lack of recourses like sunglasses and tinted lenses) by using visual strategies such as blinking, squinting, shielding their eyes, or positioning themselves in relation to light sources.

Portraying the islanders that by their fellow Micronesians are described as ‘blind’ resulted in a conceptual selection of images that mask their eyes, their face, or their ‘vision’ and at the same time invites the viewer to enter a dreamful world of colourful possibilities.

Colour is just a word to those who cannot see it. What if the colour-blind people paint with their mind, how would they colour the world, the trees, themselves? Initiating my visual research in FSM I tried to find ways to envision how people with achromatopsia see the world. I tried to see the island through their eyes. Daylight is too bright to bare, moonlight turns night into day. Imagine flames lighting up in black and white, trees turning pink, waves of grey. A rainbow revisited.

The islanders often refer to green as their favourite colour, growing up in a lush environment, living in the jungle. But green is also the colour that the most common kind of colour-blindness (deutaranomaly, five out of 100 males) can’t distinguish. I learned that the colour the islanders say to ‘see’ most is red.  I photographed with a camera converted to infrared, programmed to read the light and the colours differently.

Nowadays a lot of the Pingelapese have migrated to Pohnpei, the bigger island. The Pingelapese -besides the hereditary condition- inherit a strong sense of identity and speak a different language than the Pohnpeians. Migrated Pingelapese have gathered near Kolonia in Mwalok and built up a small community in Mand where their Pingelapese roots remain intact. They call Pingelap their ‘home’, even if the new generation Pingelapese that are born and raised in Pohnpei and have never set foot on the tiny island.

www.sannedewilde.com

The very last copies of Sanne’s book, The Island of the Colorblind, is now available on the NOOR Shop. 

5. Jaynard (achromatope) plays with a disco-light-torch I brought from Belgium. I asked him what he saw. He answered ‘colors’ and kept staring into the light. The Island of the Colorblind.In the late eighteenth century a catastrophic typhoon swept over Pingelap, a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean. One of the survivors, the king, carried the rare achromatopsia-gen that causes complete colorblindness. The king went on to have many children and as time passed by, the hereditary condition affected the isolated community and most islanders started seeing the world in black and white.Achromatopsia is characterized by extreme light sensitivity, poor vision, and complete inability to distinguish colors. Portraying the islanders that by their fellow Micronesians are described as ‘blind’ resulted in a conceptual selection of images that mask their eyes, their face, or their ‘vision’ and at the same time invite the viewer to enter a dreamful world of colorful possibilities.
7. The parrot with its squinting eye half open was the beginning of the project; a 'tropical' symbol for colors. It was later colored by an achromatope not aware of which colors she was using (yet applying them quite correctly). The Island of the Colorblind.In the late eighteenth century a catastrophic typhoon swept over Pingelap, a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean. One of the survivors, the king, carried the rare achromatopsia-gen that causes complete colorblindness. The king went on to have many children and as time passed by, the hereditary condition affected the isolated community and most islanders started seeing the world in black and white.Achromatopsia is characterized by extreme light sensitivity, poor vision, and complete inability to distinguish colors. Portraying the islanders that by their fellow Micronesians are described as ‘blind’ resulted in a conceptual selection of images that mask their eyes, their face, or their ‘vision’ and at the same time invite the viewer to enter a dreamful world of colorful possibilities.
3. Eric (achromatope) is posing for a flashlight-portrait. On Pingelap there is only solar electricity, at night everyone walks along the one, main street with a torch. I asked him to hold still and look at the light. Naturally, because of his sensitivity to light, his eyes turn to the back of his head while looking into the light. The Island of the Colorblind.In the late eighteenth century a catastrophic typhoon swept over Pingelap, a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean. One of the survivors, the king, carried the rare achromatopsia-gen that causes complete colorblindness. The king went on to have many children and as time passed by, the hereditary condition affected the isolated community and most islanders started seeing the world in black and white.Achromatopsia is characterized by extreme light sensitivity, poor vision, and complete inability to distinguish colors. Portraying the islanders that by their fellow Micronesians are described as ‘blind’ resulted in a conceptual selection of images that mask their eyes, their face, or their ‘vision’ and at the same time invite the viewer to enter a dreamful world of colorful possibilities.
1. A Pingelapese child is playing with fire. On the island they burn all the trash. At the same time, holding and moving around a burning branch is good to keep the mosquitos away. An achromatopic picture-painting, filled in with watercolorpaint by someone with achromatopic vision. The Island of the Colorblind.In the late eighteenth century a catastrophic typhoon swept over Pingelap, a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean. One of the survivors, the king, carried the rare achromatopsia-gen that causes complete colorblindness. The king went on to have many children and as time passed by, the hereditary condition affected the isolated community and most islanders started seeing the world in black and white.Achromatopsia is characterized by extreme light sensitivity, poor vision, and complete inability to distinguish colors. Portraying the islanders that by their fellow Micronesians are described as ‘blind’ resulted in a conceptual selection of images that mask their eyes, their face, or their ‘vision’ and at the same time invite the viewer to enter a dreamful world of colorful possibilities.
6. On the way back from a picknick to one of the uninhabited small islands around Pingelap with the colorblind Pingelapese and all the children of the one school of the island. The bay is now protected, islanders are no longer allowed to fish for turtles. Because of the infrared colors the scene looks very romantic, at the same time there’s the visual connotation of the boats full of refugees setting off for a better future. The Island of the Colorblind.In the late eighteenth century a catastrophic typhoon swept over Pingelap, a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean. One of the survivors, the king, carried the rare achromatopsia-gen that causes complete colorblindness. The king went on to have many children and as time passed by, the hereditary condition affected the isolated community and most islanders started seeing the world in black and white.Achromatopsia is characterized by extreme light sensitivity, poor vision, and complete inability to distinguish colors. Portraying the islanders that by their fellow Micronesians are described as ‘blind’ resulted in a conceptual selection of images that mask their eyes, their face, or their ‘vision’ and at the same time invite the viewer to enter a dreamful world of colorful possibilities.
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