Seeing Color Colorblind

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Seeing Color Colorblind

Seeing Color Colorblind

Seeing color is something that those of us with normal color vision take for granted. But many people do not see the range of colors seen by most people. “Colorblind” has been applied to such people, people with a color deficiency. As my son has said,

“‘colorblind’ as a term is sort of a misnomer in that even extremely colorblind people see colors – they just see them differently than people who are not colorblind. Unfortunately, many people are ignorant regarding this.”

Different kinds and degrees of color deficiencies have been lumped under “colorblindness.” Most color deficiencies are inherited genetically, as an X-linked recessive trait. The genes that produce the photopigments in the cones of the retina, required for color vision, are located on the X chromosome. A female has two X chromosomes. If one is defective but the other normal, in most cases she will have normal color vision. Males, on the other hand, have one X chromosome. The Y chromosome has no matching parts that produce photopigments, so a male who inherits a X chromosome with the defect will be colorblind. Males inherit the X chromosome from their mother, the Y from their father. Females inherit one X chromosome from their mother, and one X chromosome from their father. If a woman’s father is colorblind, she will inherit a color deficient X chromosome from him. If we assume for the moment that the X chromosome she inherits from her mother is normal, the probably that the abnormal X will be passed on to her children is 50%, and the probability that the normal one will be passed on is 50%. Any of her sons have a 50% chance of inheriting their maternal grandfather’s color deficiency through their normal color sighted mother.

That was the situation in my family. My father was colorblind, and I knew early on that any sons of mine had a 50% probability of being colorblind. So, it was no surprise when he was colorblind. I’ve always been glad that they had a close relationship, because they saw the world in the same way and could talk about it. My father laughed about being colorblind. He was a child of the Great Depression, and his father had died when he was three, so I guess there were a lot worse things in his childhood than being colorblind.

Although I knew they both had the same “red-green” colorblindness, until quite recently I really had no idea exactly how they saw the world. It just was, and nothing could be done about it. All of that changed in March of 2015, when Enchroma posted a video on YouTube:

 

 

I must have watched that video 20 times in a row the first time I saw it. I had such hope my son could see the world as I saw it. In short order, his grandmother had ordered a pair of Enchroma glasses for him. Here is a description of how these glasses work to help colorblind people see color. My son did not get the “wow” effect from his glasses, but he likes them. He wears them as sunglasses on his daily commutes and other trips. On one trip, he commented that he saw pink in a sunset for the first time ever. So, they do make some difference, but it took a little while for that to come out.

After hoping so much that he could see color the way I do, I had to accept that was not likely to happen in the near future. And for the first time ever, I began to wonder if there were any way that maybe I could see his world. Now it seems odd to me that it took me a lifetime to ask that question, but there it was.

I thought about it for several months, and gradually some possibilities occurred to me. In my digital photography program I had become acquainted with the RGB (red-green-blue) color system. I was also aware of some beautiful old Russian images done in color by shooting three black and white images in rapid succession, using red, green, and blue filters, and then combining the images into one. Those still amaze me. By Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky – from the Library of Congress’ website, Public Domain:

Work of By Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky
Work of By Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky

The more I thought about some of those different things, I began to play with RGB channels. In the spring/summer of 2015 I made three sets of images, each set containing an image as I saw it, and another image as I thought my son might possibly see it, based on what I knew about his color deficiency by that point in time. I knew that in theory the two images in each set should appear the same to him. But, I was very, very surprised when they actually did!! I was happy that I finally had a glimpse into his world, and sad that I did not have the technology to show him mine.

Then, I got very busy with many things, and did not work on more sets until early this year (2016). I’ve done a fair number of these diptychs now, with my son giving me a lot of time to go over them. My father had and my son has a red color deficiency, rather severe. People with a different color deficiency, or a different degree, would not see these images in the same way at all.

Before I show some of the diptychs, I want to show this image of the color wheel for the RGB system of additive light. As you look at it, try to imagine what you might see if red were missing or almost missing. You might want to refer back to it if some of the sets puzzle you.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for this public domain image of the RGB system of additive light.
AdditiveColor

The following images show how moderate red deficiency and severe red deficiency would affect seeing of the RGB colors:


The Orange Reds

Seeing color colorblind
Seeing Color Colorblind: Red Lacewing Butterfly
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Seeing Color Colorblind: Hibiscus
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Seeing Color Colorblind: Wildflower
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Seeing Color Colorblind: Butterfly
Seeing Color Colorblind
Seeing Color Colorblind: Pomegranates

The Pinks/Magentas

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Seeing Color Colorblind: Rose ‘Marriotta’
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Seeing Color Colorblind: Desert Rose
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Seeing Color Colorblind: Rose ‘Othello’

Things We See Not Too Differently

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Seeing Color Colorblind: The Observer/The Observed
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Seeing Color Colorblind: Wildflower

Big Surprise: Skin Tones
In retrospect I should have anticipated skin tones, but it took me a little while to accept how I look to my son.

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Seeing Color Colorblind: Mother
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Seeing Color Colorblind: from the Persephone Series

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Seeing Color Colorblind: Fire of Passion


Another Big Surprise: Monotones and Black and White

This is Bishop’s Cap, and the color on the left is just the way it occurred naturally.

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Seeing Color Colorblind: Bishop’s Cap

For these in black and white, if the cyan tone surprises you (it certainly did me, initially), you might want to refer back to the RGB color wheel of additive light, and imagine if the red is not there what would be left. White, black, and true grays have equal amounts of red, green, and blue. With no or little red, you get a combination of blue and green, which equals cyan.

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Seeing Color Colorblind: Rose ‘Leonidas’ in B&W

I definitely prefer these developing pears the way my son sees the black and white image:

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Seeing Color Colorblind: Developing Pears

A Final Image in this Post

seeing color colorblind
Seeing Color Colorblind: My Mother’s Garden

I included this image, although it is not a very good one, for a specific reason. Color deficiencies at times can have some adaptive benefits. Colorblind people were used in WWII (and I have heard also Vietnam, but I do not know that for a fact) to detect the enemy through camouflage. I am not certain if it was for color, per se, or that they could detect movements better than people distracted by lots of color. There has been speculation that among our big game hunting ancestors, colorblind males might also have been better able to detect movements of animals, giving them an advantage over those with normal color vision. When my son was in Oklahoma working on his degree in Boot and Saddle Making, the FAA called him frequently for tests for projects they were working on. I don’t know any of the details, but my son said they were working to improve safety (this was in the 1990’s, long before 9/11, just for clarification). Color deficiency can have some adaptive advantages.

A Final Video and Thought:

“Sometimes I wish people could see what I saw…” Andrew from this Enchroma video:

I have never heard my son say, “I wish people could see what I see.” But he has certainly given me a lot of time and help as I have worked on this project, something I felt compelled to try once the idea popped into my head and I realized I had learned tools in photography that might allow me to see the world through his eyes.

This project is far from finished, even in working with the one specific type and degree of color deficiency. Over time I hope to work with other types of color deficiency as well. But should I never get any farther with this, I am happy that at this stage of my life I have learned to see the world through the eyes of my son (and thus, also, my father). Although the technology does not currently exist for him to see the world through my eyes, I have hopes that will happen some time in his lifetime.

That’s what you get from a mother, a daughter, a PhD anthropologist, a board-certified Ob/Gyn, and photographer. 🙂

If anyone has read this far, or even looked at all of the images, thank you!

Seeing Color

seeing color

Seeing Color

Seeing color: pretty simple for a color sighted person. It is so natural, it is easily taken for granted without much thought. That has been true for me until recently, in spite of the fact that color is so important to me in all aspects of my life and in spite of the fact I have lived with and been around colorblind people my entire life.

I began to give seeing color much more thought when I saw a beautiful video showing some colorblind people seeing color for the first time using EnChroma glasses, specifically designed to help colorblind people see color.



Seeing the video made me recall so many things about my father and son to which I had not given much thought in years. After seeing it, I wrote elsewhere:

This beautiful video allowed me for the first time to perhaps glimpse the world as my colorblind father saw it and my colorblind son sees it. My father has passed on, but he would have loved the chance to try these glasses. On vacations he always had trouble with traffic lights, until the positions became more standardized. The video gave me such a vivid example of why. My mother grew beautiful flowers, and he always tried to appreciate them, but the passion just wasn’t there. Once again, the video allowed me to understand why.

I knew from high school genetics that any son of mine would have a 50% chance of being colorblind, so when he was, it came as no surprise. I don’t even remember how old he was when we all realized it, but I’m sure it was when he was quite young. When he was a child, he always wanted black balloons. After seeing the video where the balloons were washed-out shades of blue and yellow to a colorblind person, I can really understand why. Black would stand out among those colors.

When my father was alive, the two of them together were a hoot, and they saw the world pretty much the same way. I’ll never forget listening to them the first time they watched a football game together and they were talking about “the blue team and the yellow team.” Even though I knew perfectly well they were colorblind, I thought they were putting me on! I came to realize that was not a joke, and how really differently they saw the world. The video, showing how the balloons would appear to a colorblind person, helped me “see” for the first time what the two of them were seeing: yellow and blue!

Being colorblind in the same way was, I believe, an additional strength to the grandfather-grandson relationship. Each had someone who understood without explanation what the other saw. In reading through some of the stories here, I appreciate even more how fortunate both of them were in that respect.

In spite of that mutual support, I cannot count the number of times my son has said, “I wish I could see the world the way other people see it, even if just once and just for one minute.” I never dreamed that could perhaps be possible for him.

I cried when I first saw this video, and I must have watched it at least 20 times. When my mother watched it, her first response was, “I wish these had existed when your father was alive.” Her second response was, “My grandson has to have a pair of these to try.” We will not know, of course, until he tries them how he really will see the world through them. But we all have hope that he will be able to see color like the people in the video (and other videos), and not “just once, even for just a minute,” but maybe for a very long time.

Regardless of the outcome with that, I appreciate the video for allowing me to begin to understand just how my father saw and my son sees the world.

I began to try to learn a lot more about colorblindness. I knew there were many kinds and degrees of colorblindness, and that red-green was the most common, but I had not known there were different types of red-green colorblindness. One type is helped more readily by the new glasses, one type not helped so much. I became really aware of that when I saw another video with a colorblind boy with the latter type trying to sort crayons without and then with his EnChroma glasses:

After I learned the type my son has and my father had, I re-read the EnChroma site:

Significant Color-Name Confusion

Green, brown, yellow, orange, and red may appear confusingly similar. This makes “naming” the color difficult. (I remember as a little kid trying to “teach” my father his colors. He was pretty patient with that.)

Difficulty with Traffic Signals

Green lights may appear to be white. Yellow and red lights may appear indistinguishable, especially at night.

Distorted Color Perception

For people with normal color vision, there is universal agreement on what certain “unique colors” look like. However due to the significant spectral shift of the L-cone, strong protans may perceive these colors to have different spectral locations, for example, something as ordinary as peanut butter, which should look brown, appears to be green for someone with color blindness!

From the always wonderfully scientifically accurate source, Wikipedia 😉

Protans have difficulties to distinguish between blue and green colors and also between red and green colors. It is a form of dichromatism in which the subject can only perceive light wavelengths from 400 to 650 nm, instead of the usual 700 nm. Pure reds cannot be seen, instead appearing black; purple colors cannot be distinguished from blues; more orange-tinted reds may appear as very dim yellows, and all orange-yellow-green shades of too long a wavelength to stimulate the blue receptors appear as a similar yellow hue. It is hereditary, sex-linked, and present in 1% of males.

I became more and more interested in trying to imagine what the world must have looked like to my father and now to my son. I believe the Enchroma video shows a milder form of red-green colorblindness. It definitely helped me see some things and begin to think about the issue, but I wanted to see if there was any way I could “see” what my son saw. There are sites on the internet that allow one to upload images and then see how they would look to colorblind people. Some are of the type father had and my son has, but I believe not as severe. I tried to think how I could “imagine” such a different way of seeing. And, then it occurred to me. Light is perceived in the red, green, blue wavelengths and their combinations. The cones in normal colorsighted people are red, green, and blue. For severe protans, red is severely deficient, so much so that pure red is often perceived as black.

Putting all that I recently have read about colorblindness together, and thinking about how photoediting software makes use of the RGB (red, green, blue) nature of visible light, I experimented with some images. I cannot say that anyone but me sees these colors this way. I also, even for myself, cannot be certain of saturation, because I do not know how that varies even among color sighted people, to say nothing of colorblind people. But I do know that by manipulating the relevant color channels, I produced images that replicate the descriptions given (see above). For some of the images I also attempted to produce images that might be how the glasses alter the vision of a severe protans. This I am even much less certain about, but I took into account what my son has told me so far: he sees some things as pink where he never saw them as pink before, and the glasses make yellows much less vivid for him.

Example 1 – The Orange Floribunda Rose, ‘Marmalade Skies’

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Orange Floribunda Rose, ‘Marmalade Skies’
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How Orange Rose, ‘Marmalade Skies,’ Might Be Perceived by Someone with Severe Protanopia
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How That Same Rose Might Be Seen With EnChroma Glasses

Example 2 – The Miniature Rose, ‘Marriotta’

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Miniature Rose, ‘Marriotta’
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‘Marriotta’ as Might Be Perceived by Someone with Severe Protanopia
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With EnChroma Glasses – Perhaps

Example 3 – The Large Flowered Climber, ‘Fourth of July’

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Large Flowered Climber, ‘Fourth of July’
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‘Fourth of July’ As Might Be Perceived By a Severe Protans
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With EnChroma Glasses – Perhaps

I have done many more in this series with flowers, but they offer nothing new from the ones posted here. So, I’ll save them for a bit.

But, in reading in a forum, I became aware that to many red-green colorblind people, skin has a greenish cast. That made me want to try to picture what I might look like to my son.

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Mother – As She Sees Herself
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Mother – As She Might Be Perceived By Her Son
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Mother – As She Might Be Perceived with EnChroma Glasses. This Might Be Overly Optimistic.

Added April 28, 2015:

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Mother – this might be closer to what she might look like with EnChroma glasses

My son has described his experience with the EnChroma glasses to date with the one word, “Interesting…” That is the one word I can think of at the moment to describe my response to this little exercise in trying to understand how my father did and my son does see the world. I do not know how accurately these images reproduce their world. I definitely believe there is some degree of similarity to their worlds of color.

[eta: my son confirms that the first two images in each set of three “look exactly the same to me…The third picture in each group looks different.”]

One thing this exercise has definitely taught me is to appreciate my seeing color, and not take it for granted. I will appreciate even more every attempt my son makes to say something about my flowers when he visits. And, I will continue to hope advances in color vision will continue to be made. People don’t die from not seeing color, but color contributes so much joy to life.