Book Review: The Island of The Color Blind
By Liz Von Klemperer
Sanne de Wilde’s mystifying new book The Island of the Colorblind comes out from Hannibal & Kehrer on July 4th. The Belgian born artist traveled to the Pingelap and Pohnpei islands in Micronesia to photograph the large number of inhabitants who suffer from the rare genetic condition achromatopsia or ‘complete color-blindness’. Achromatopsia is characterized by extreme light sensitivity and the inability to distinguish color. Daylight is often too bright to handle, so the world becomes more clearly illuminated by moonlight. By implementing black and white, infrared, and achromatic picture-paintings techniques, de Wilde attempts to see her subjects how they see the world: through the lens of achromatopsia.
De Wilde patented the technique of “achromatic picture-painting,” a collaborative process in which she recruited members of a Dutch achromatopsia organization to paint in color on her black and white images. Participants did not know what colors they were using, adding an element of chance. By inviting people with achromatopsia to make marks on her work, de Wilde bypasses per own assumptions about how people with the condition perceive the world. The effect is striking, as glowing, other worldly landscapes appear. The work becomes not only an exploration into how people with achromatopsia see the world, but a query into the age-old human question: just how varied is empirical perception? Do I see what you see? “Color is just a word to those who cannot see it,” de Wilde said in a statement on her website. In this sense, the validity of the photographers perception comes into question.
In addition to experimenting with various photography techniques, de Wilde includes anecdotes about her first hand experiences with Micronesia inhabitants. For example, her photo of Jaynard features the young boy playing with what de Wilde describes as a “disco-light-torch” she brought from Belgium. When asked what the boy saw, he answered, simply, “colors,” and stared intently at the light. Anecdotes like this, highlight the mysteries of alternate perception. The photograph is notably in black and white, which brings to attention the disparity between the viewer’s perception and that of the child. It is a reversal of roles. Where he sees color, the viewer now sees black and white.
De Wilde is known for focusing on those in the genetic minority, from her series Samoa Kekea, which features portraits of people with albinism, to her series The Dwarf Empire, which documents a theme park in southern China that’s home to 77 people with dwarfism. The fetishizing and commercializing of a condition intrigued Wilde, as the inhabitants perform for visitors twice a day. De Wilde strives to see the world through the eyes of those who are categorized as "other", and find common ground. Click here for more information and to purchase the book.