When looking for the first time at work of Sanne De Wilde, 3rd Prize winner of the prestigious PHM 2017 Women Photographers Grant
that she received for her project "The Island of the Colorblind", I got
imminently infected with the attractiveness of her imagery. All that
stroked me was the forms, the colors, the technicality behind each
image added up to my impression, and I was curious to find out how
this massive project evolved.
Sanne, Belgian photographer who lives and works in Amsterdam, was
once talking on the Belgian radio about her photographic practice. De
Wilde was at the time working on a project that deals with albinism
titled “Snow white”. After the audition she was approached by Roel
van Gils, who simply told her that he has a great story for her. They
both met and she found out about the p
to take to reach the island. The trip took days to travel, as there is no
direct connection. The usual journey to the island is through the USA
or through Japan -coming from Europe past Oceania and than onwards
journey with the island hopper that takes you deep into the Pacific.
Once the photographer reached Pohnpei she needed to charter a little
plane to Pingelap or she could wait for the boat that goes there every
We learn from Sanne a little bit more about the island, which is traditionally ruled by local ethnic group called Nahnmwarki. She explains that “they are still an authority people deeply respect and turn to in time of need. The Nahnmwarki's also fulfill a spiritual role amongst Christianity converted Micronesians that have very strong traditional beliefs. Ancient spirits that roam the islands are still very much present and are taken very seriously”. She highlights her role in the development of this project as a photographer and visual researcher. “I’m not a scientific researcher. I didn’t study achromatopsia in all its scientific aspects; I studied it visually and learned through first hand experience. I did not conduct factual research; my project consists of images-based footage mixed with conversations, myths and storytelling”. What intrigues me is how does the achrolatopsia effect the everyday life of people on the island. The photographer explains that the biggest issue is the lack of knowledge and education about achrolatopsia. Surprisingly many of the Pingelapese and Pohnpeians don’t even know what achromatopsia is or where it comes from. They often don’t know it is a genetically inherited condition. The photographer explains that “Some believe it is a punishment of a vengeful god. But some Pingelapese are well informed, the leading man of the family I was living with for example, Roddy Robert, also affected by achromatopsia, was working as a teacher for the visually impaired. Achromatopsia is not just about not seeing color, achromatopes are extremely light sensitive which is a enormous burden on a super sunny, tropical island. In the daylight the world looks like a burned out image. They can hardly keep their eyes open when outside. You can therefore recognize achromatopic people because they are constantly squinting and blinking their eyes. They also suffer poor vision, and that is what limits them most in daily life, taking up chores or jobs they can and cannot do.
For example, being so bad sighted it’s unlikely for any of them to ever be able to drive a car”. Sanne tried to help the people she met during the realization of her project. After returning to the Netherlands she has been in contact with a Dutch company who produces special sunglasses and tinted lenses, that the achromatopes in Europe benefit from (which allows them to ‘see’ in the daylight), but she couldn't manage everything solo, “I worked with the Dutch organization for achromatopsia to think of ways of helping. They advised me bringing lenses is not a solution of there is no educational infrastructure to sustain; if people use the lenses incorrectly it might cause more bad than good. I hope to find someone to fund a solution in the future and go back, this time not empty handed. I hope I can find a way to go back soon to show them everything and bring them the book. They are like family to me. I hope they’ll love it”.