Infrared Photography Captures the Neon World of Colorblind Islanders

On a small island in the Pacific called Pingelap, a high percentage of the population sees the world in only black and white. A startling number of island’s inhabitants suffer from achromatopsia, or total color-blindness with an increased sensitivity to light. Photographer Sanne De Wilde, who heard about the unusual circumstances on the island, visited the obscure atoll to conduct research for a possible visual project. The artist uses infrared technology (red is the color Pingelapese are most able to recognize) to craft a unique perspective that reflects the experience of her subjects. She names her latest project, a photography series and book titled Island of the Colorblind, after an Oliver Sacks book. The book includes black-and-white photos, infrared photos, and photo-paintings. Sanne threads themes of voyeurism and otherness through her work, exploring “the way we view [others], and what that ultimately says about us.”

Learning of Pingelap was a magical occurrence for Sanne. She likens her discovery of the region, which has a population of around 250, to “an idea [sparking in] your mind and linger[ing], glowing in the back of your head, like a shiny though-sparkle.”

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Sanne snaps images of a myriad of subjects, focusing her lens on human portraits, animals, and landscapes, spending months and substantial resources to compile the project. The photographer shares with Creators her methodology of capturing the art series: “I’m not a scientific researcher. I’m a visual researcher, a photographer. I didn’t study achromatopsia in all its scientific aspects; I studied it visually and learned through first hand experience. […] My project consists of image-based footage mixed with conversations, myths, and storytelling.”

The artist used a camera specifically converted to with infrared capabilities. Before reaching the tiny islands, Sanne was unfamiliar with using this particular photographic technology. She shares that she “had no idea how the pictures would turn out. I only looked at the result when I got back [from Pingelap].” See the stunning images from Sanne’s book below:

Island of the Colorblind is currently available for purchase. Visit the websites of co-publishers Uitgeverij Kannibaal and Kehrer Verlag here and here. An interactive installation featuring De Wilde’s work will be on view at The Phi Centre in Montreal from July 18 to December 16. Find more information about the exhibit here.


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