October 23, 2017

Meditations on Chroma

My father is color blind. His mother was, too.

My Grammy had an extreme case of it: Everything looked pretty much black and white to her.

She always wore bright red lipstick. In the mirror, and in black and white photographs, she thought it looked pink.

Dad, however, has the kind of color blindness that allows him to see some colors accurately but mix other colors up. Brown and green, for example, look the same to him.

Whenever we'd give him a tie for his birthday, Christmas, or Father's Day—a gift I believe he truly appreciated, as a banker who wore a suit to work every day—he'd acknowledge the pattern (stripes, fleur de lis, whatever) but then ask about the color.

"It's... blue... right?"

"No, Daddy, it's red!" And we'd all laugh.

He didn't seem to mind having access to only a limited spectrum of colors. He knew there were other colors out there that he just couldn't see—he just didn't care all that much.

Maybe that's because he'd never seen those hues in the first place.

I, on the other hand, have perfect color vision. My color sensitivity is so impeccable that I can detect minuscule variations in shades that most people can't see. At least, that's what color tests on the internet tell me.

Even as a child, when my visual acuity was near legal blindness, I could always see colors really well. I recognized my parents in the grocery store by the color of their clothes.

I still look for people in a crowd by the color of their hair.

Like my Grammy, I, too, gravitate towards bright red (and hot pink)—but it's because I can see it and I just love the way it looks.

But you can only stare at one color for so long before it starts to fade, desaturate, or morph into some other spot on the spectrum.

After all, even in a monochromatic setting, other colors can filter in. A red chamber next to a blue chamber can, at least at some point, look purple.

And there's no parity between primary colors like red and blue and a secondary color like green.

Of course, in reality, nothing is ever one color. Even in my grandmother's black and white world, there were many shades of gray—to which she attributed the colors of the rainbow, though she didn't know first-hand the experience of purple or turquoise or even gold or silver.

That's why light and space Carlos Cruz-Diez considered his installation Chromasaturation from 1965—currently on display as part of Pacific Standard Time at the Palm Springs Art Museum—an "artificial habitat."

I know that the three chambers were lit with only blue, red, and green lights. But I also know that I saw oranges and pinks and purples and pale lime greens and even yellows.

Where did those colors come from? From inside my own eyeballs?

If that were the case, then how did my camera pick up on these spectral tones as well?

Related Posts:
James Turrell Turned My Eyeballs Inside-Out
A Cell for All Perceptions
Photo Essay: Exploring Light & Color in Exxopolis
Dark Matters

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