Island of the Colour Blind

picislandPingelap, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean is lush with natural colours — azure blue waters, green palms and white sandy beaches. But the biggest irony is that almost 10 per cent of Pingelap’s inhabitants are colourblind. They suffer from achromatopsia, a condition that makes people sensitive to light, results in poor vision and inability to distinguish colours. Legend has it that a typhoon swept over Pingelap in the 18th century¬† and wiped away most of its residents. The only survivor was the king, who suffered from achromatopsia. He passed the gene to the island’s future generations, earning the atoll the name ‘Island of the Colourblind’.

When Belgian photographer Sanne De Wilde, first heard of Pingelap, she was deeply fascinated by the island’s unique residents. She spent a month in Pingelap and neighbouring Pohnpei in 2015 to understand the Pingelapese sense of colour. Curious to let people know how colourblinds perceive colour she experimented with infrared and shot in monochrome on her digital camera. The result was an eerie burst of light. Sanne compiled her research and presented them in a photobook titled Island of the Colorblind.


Sanne’s book is part of the ongoing Photo Book exhibition at Gulf Photo Plus, Dubai, that runs till August 31, 2018. Contemporary photographers from North Africa, Middle East and South Asia are exhibiting in the show. At a talk organised by GPP Sanne shared her experiences of photographing the Pingelapese.


“The sun need not be yellow, it can be purple. I wanted people to see different perceptions of the world we live in. I conducted my research by shooting in black and white to see how the achromatics see the tropical environment in shades of black and white. In my pics I focus on their eyes and head. I also invited Belgian and Dutch achromats to paint on my black and white images, to showcase different perspectives.” Who would have thought there is an entire island where people see the world in shades of grey! An interesting talk and a revelation for me.