Before it was chosen as the breakaway favorite photobook from 2017, Sanne De Wilde’s project “The Island of the Colorblind” was one of the most popular exhibitions in Arles this past summer. Her instantly memorable photo story focuses on the island of Pingelap, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean with less than 300 permanent residents. Many of the people living on Pingelap have achromatopsia, or color blindness—and those with complete achromatopsia are unable to see any color at all. Their vision is completely overrun with shades of black, white and grey.
This phenomenon is fertile ground for a photographic investigation, and De Wilde’s resulting project received worldwide acclaim for its nuanced, empathetic, and thoughtful examination of the island and its people. The LensCulture team caught up with De Wilde at her exhibition in the south of France, a unique and immersive experience that displayed photographs alongside an interactive section which gave visitors a glimpse into the vision of someone with achromatopsia. Visit the exhibition and hear De Wilde speak more about her passion in this video interview—
The project contains three distinct series: in the first, De Wilde shot with a digital camera and then converted the images to black-and-white in Photoshop. In the second, she returned with a camera converted to infrared. In the third, De Wilde asked achromats (those with color blindness) to paint color back onto her original black-and-white images. Throughout the course of the project, De Wilde discovered that achromats can “see,” or distinguish, the color red more than any other color, and she built this realization into her series: washes of soft pink, deep magenta, and bright lilac suffuse her work.
De Wilde aims to help people without achromatopsia release their grip on what the world “should” look like and sink into “a new, colorful reality that is actually created by people that don’t see color.” Learn more about this remarkable project in the interview above.
This interview was filmed during Sanne De Wilde’s exhibition in Arles last summer. If you’d like to learn more about Sanne’s work, you can explore one of her earlier series, Snow White, or read the critics’ review of her photobook, The Island of the Colorblind.