Obsessed by 'The Island of the Colorblind’ Pingelap

The unique shots taken by Belgian photographer Sanne De Wilde offer an unusual look of Pingelap atoll in the eyes of colorblind residents living on this small island.

Visiting Pingelap, a small atoll located on the Pacific Ocean, Belgian photographer Sanne De Wilde took strange photos of an alien world with unusual colors. Plants are light pink instead of being green, the sea turns from blue to grey, and the people here look like they have just stepped out of black-and-white pictures.

Pingelap atoll is located on Pacific Ocean. It is commonly known as ‘the island of color blindness’. Sanne De Wilde took some pictures of this atoll in the eyes of the colorblind residents living here. Source: Sanne De Wilde

Mystically, a vast number of Pingelap population are diagnosed with achromatopsia (total color blindness).  For that reason, Sanne De Wilde decided not to capture the beauty of Pingelap in normal ways. She imagined how people living on this atoll see their homeland and conveyed it via her photos.

Pingelap is a place with exceptionally high percentage of people with achromatopsia. Normally, achromatopsia or total color blindness is regarded as a rare visual disorder with extremely low percentage, which is about 1/ 30.000. However, on this atoll, from 4% to 10% of the population are achromatopes.

The disorder’s popularity is said to stem from a king who used to rule the island. After a destructive tsunami in the 18th century, only 20 people survived, and the king was one of them. The king, then, became father of many children on the island. Unfortunately, his optical disorder was passed to his descendants. Gradually, the “rare” achromatopsia invaded a vast area of the island.

De Wilde noted in her photo book ‘The Island of the Colorblind’ that the residents had confirmed red to be the most common hue to them. That is the reason why she chose a thermal imaging camera to take photos of Pingelap. Source: Sanne De Wilde

Achromatopes living on Pingelap said to De Wilde that green was their most favorite color of all, despite the fact that their eyes were least sensible of this color. De Wilde supposed that the people’s answer reflected their love for the nature and the plants around them.

‘Jaynard, an achromatope, climbs a tree in the garden, to pick fruits and play. I took the picture while he was climbing back down. The sun comes peeking through the branches; bright light makes him keep his eyes closed.’ Source: Sanne De Wilde

Jaynard is playing on his own in the garden. Source: Sanne De Wilde

The picture depicts a Pingelapese child playing with the 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.’ Source: Sanne De Wilde

Traveling on Pingelap, De Wilde saw only one path. Nearly no stores or restaurants could be found. The Pingelapese live on the coconuts, bananas, breadfruits and the fishes they catch daily. According to De Wilde, the life on this island is totally simple.

‘People with achromatopsia are extremely light-sensitive, which is a burden on a super sunny, tropical island,’ she continued ‘In the daylight, the world looks like a burned-out image. They can hardly keep their eyes open when outside.’ said De Wilde.

The Belgian photographer shared: ‘They don't see color at all. That's why everything appears to them in shades of grey - everything in between black and white. I didn't change any colors. The infrared camera did. And the other images I just converted to black and white using Photoshop.’

This is a Pingelapese man's first reaction when he saw the light. ‘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.’ Source: Sanne De Wilde

'People with achromatopsia are extremely light-sensitive, which is a burden on a super sunny, tropical island.’ Source: Sanne De Wilde

Jaynard, an 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.' Source: Sanne De Wilde

Not only did Sanne De Wilde take pictures of the life on Pingelap, but she also asked achromatopes living on the island to paint some pictures. This colorful parrot inspired her to work on her project ‘The Island of the Colorblind’. Source: Sanne De Wilde

By: Chris Stewart

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