Spring color is everywhere in Albuquerque. Everything looks so fresh. The roses are a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. Because the weather is not hot yet, the roses haven’t become crispy critters, as they sometimes do. Everything around town seems colorful and clean. Of course, nothing beats a sunrise here! A riot of floral color makes things that much better!
I saw the light, a vision tale, is a personal story about cataracts. At one time I probably would not have written about that, but now I know a fair number of friends have some degree of cataracts. This should be a hopeful tale.
Light has always been important to me. Even as a little kid traveling through the Southwest on family vacations, I “felt” the light of the high desert. It was years later before I could express anything about that, though. I lived in southern Arizona from 1969-1976, when I was working on my PhD at the University of Arizona. I just knew I liked it there. After that I had a job teaching at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. At that point, I was aware of how important light was to me. I enjoyed many aspects of life in Kansas City, but not the extended periods of dark, gray skies and cold, windy winters. Springs were magnificent. I moved to Albuquerque in 1985. While I like to visit other places, I am always happy to get home and back to the light of the high desert. Although sunrises and sunsets have been called by some “the greatest cliché” in photography, I show them here because I really like them. I think the people who knock them have never seen a real New Mexico sky. 😉
Several years ago, my ophthalmologist told me I had cataracts. He also said, “You don’t need to do anything about them now. You’ll know when you need to do something.” Something akin to a “decisive moment,” I guess. I saw him in early November and told him I was not having any problems.
Many of you know Tim and Laurie. Some of you know that my journey into digital photography began in 2008, when my little Nikon Coolpix died while I was photographing roses in their garden. I replaced that with a compact digital, but a complex one. So, I had to go take some classes, and one thing led to another, and another, and another… That all started in their rose garden.
Late in November I was out in Corrales with Tim and Laurie, photographing some cranes that were right there close to their house. Laurie had a wonderful meal, and we sat and talked, and I stayed well past dark. That was a Saturday night. For those of you who know Albuquerque, Alameda was bumper to bumper traffic from Corrales to the Northeast Heights. And I was “blinded by the light”of the headlights of every oncoming car. At least I knew what was causing that. But, I was very happy to get home, and I have not yet driven again at night since.
I saw the cataract surgeon in December, and the earliest date was in March. So, I took it.
This was a long, dark winter, although not cold. My house seemed really dark. I kept thinking I needed more lamps, or maybe even some additional light fixtures. Anything to make the house brighter!!!
Cataracts and Color
I saw my regular doctor in February. He told me that I would love the brightness and “all the color” once I had my cataracts fixed. I thought to myself, “what?” with respect to color and cataracts. Many of you are familiar with the work I have done with my son, who, like my father, has severe red deficient color vision. I’ve seen my ophthalmologist for years because I am on a medication that has the potential to damage the retinas. Today there are highly sophisticated tests to assess the retinas and any changes, but when I first started going, color vision was part of the assessment. The cones that detect different wavelengths of light are part of the retina. The patient arranged a series of colored cylinders. The Munsell Hue Test is no longer part of the evaluation, but you can see an online version and try it yourself: Munsell Color Test
Keep in mind there are many limitations in the virtual world, such as differences in monitors, lighting conditions, and so forth.
I had never had any problems with that test in the ophthalmologist’s office, but I decided to try the online test. I keep my monitor color-calibrated, and in good lighting conditions for working with color photographs. I was “shocked, shocked I tell you” with my results on February:
Color Vision and My Family
Color changes usually associated with aging, toxins, etc. tend to affect the blue-yellow axis. To me, my results appeared more red-green. So I immediately took the Enchroma Color Vision Test, knowing the limits of online testing. I was shocked that my results came back Mild Protanopia. My father had and my son has Severe Protanopia. My father, son, and I do have the same X-chromosome that so severely affects their color vision. As a female, I have another X-chromosome, a normal one, from my mother. That allowed me to see colors normally most of my life. I think, although I do not know for sure, that when the cataracts began to affect my color vision, that decreased the protective effect of the normal X-chromosome, and allowed some expression of the red color deficiency carried on the chromosome from my father. I do not know that as an absolute fact. It is my working explanation of some of the phenomena I see in my personal experience.
Until I did the Munsell Test online, I was not aware of any changes in my color vision. This is in spite of the fact I have spent so much time working on the color vision of others.
Even though cataract surgery is very “routine” these days, I did worry a bit. I mean, it is surgery on your eyes, the window to the world from someone looking out.
I had to be at the surgery center by 8:00am. I was home by 10:15, and served coffee and banana bread to my mom and to her friend who had driven us.
I had no pain. I had blurry vision in that eye, a short term effect of the surgery.
After the Surgery, the Light!
By that evening, some of the blurriness began to clear. More amazing was the light! The room kept getting brighter and brighter. It was almost like watching a sunrise, except with white light. I did not expect this at all. I had the surgery because I wanted to be able to drive at night. All the dark corners of that room became bright before I went to bed. It was like an unexpected miracle! When I covered my left eye and looked with only my right eye, things appeared as what had become my normal. When I covered my right eye and looked only with my left eye, things looked bright and “clean.” I realize now that through my right eye, which still has a cataract, I see things with a very slight cyan cast.
But, it is the overall brightness everywhere that is so beautiful and so amazing to me. I did not know I would see such a drastic change.
After the Surgery, Color
Five days after the surgery, I repeated the Munsell Color Test. These were the results:
Quite a change from February’s results.
I repeated the test the following day:
I will not repeat this test until I get my right eye done next month. But I will note, yesterday in the gym I realized some of the balls that I had always considered green were actually turquoise. I want to stress that I had not been aware of color changes, and I have done some work with color deficient vision in other people.
Two days after the surgery I knew I was seeing distance as well without glasses as with my prescription glass. Less than a week after the surgery I was out driving with my prescription glasses, and realized they were interfering with good vision. “Get.These.Off!!!!” Those glasses are history! And that is after surgery on only one eye. I’m getting along quite well with reading glasses for close work, and no glasses for everything else.
I saw, and am continuing to see, the light. It was such an unexpected gift. I just wanted to be able to drive at night. 🙂
Country gospel is not usually part of the rotation of my playlists. But since that first night, sitting in my family room and watching it getting brighter and brighter almost by the minute, this old Hank Williams song keeps running through my head. We may assign different meanings to light, but we share the pure joy.
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:
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.
The following images show how moderate red deficiency and severe red deficiency would affect seeing of the RGB colors:
The Orange Reds
Things We See Not Too Differently
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.
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.
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.
I definitely prefer these developing pears the way my son sees the black and white image:
A Final Image in this Post
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!