Ausnew Home Care | I'm a photographer and I'm colourblind

I'm a photographer and I'm colourblind — this is what I've learnt about the world

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I'm a photographer. I'm also completely colourblind. 

I see no colour, and never have, as I was born with a condition called rod monochromatism.

Forms of colour blindness are thought to affect about 8 per cent of men and 0.4 per cent of women, according to Vision Australia, but my condition is amongst the rarest and most severe forms.

I also struggle with glare and visual acuity as the colour receptors in the eye are essential for fine central vision and for helping the eye adjust to changes in brightness.

I find these defects much more challenging than my monochrome vision, which rarely feels like more than a mild inconvenience, but I know from experience that it's the colour blindness that fascinates everyone else.

Sean Walker
Sean Walker says shooting in black and white means no one sees an image the same way as another person.(Supplied: Sean Walker)

I've learned not to let my poor vision hold me back. With careful planning, some practical strategies picked up over time, and the kindness and patience of others, there isn't much I can't do.

I can ride a bike and roller skate, because my big brothers insisted that I learn. They included me in every activity, from street cricket with the neighbours to pitching in as part of the pit-crew at go-kart meets.

As I approached school age, mum and dad moved us all from Sydney up to Queensland, where a state school was introducing a program for vision-impaired kids that placed them into regular classrooms while providing one-on-one support where needed.

Camperdown Memorial Rest Park
Camperdown Memorial Rest Park.(Photograph by Sean Walker)
Contrasting details
'Contrasting details'.(Photograph by Sean Walker)

I've travelled around the world, lived and worked overseas and have a day job in the corporate sector.

I've even developed strategies for ensuring my shirts and trousers don't clash horribly.

And yes, I’m a photographer.

I long thought about pursuing it seriously but for the first time in my life, I let fears about my colour blindness hold me back.

I'm told the average human eye can distinguish more than a million gradations of colour — a terrifying thought for a person who's never seen one.

What if I inadvertently juxtaposed blue and green, a faux pas so serious that a rhyme was composed just to warn against it? 

Climbing tree
Climbing tree at Sydney Park.(Photograph by Sean Walker)
University of Sydney
A scene from the University of Sydney.(Photograph by Sean Walker)

Black and white photography was an obvious solution, and indeed, the one I eventually adopted, but not without some final agonising.

To produce a monochrome image, modern cameras capture a scene in full colour then use software to remove it.

This feels unauthentic to me. Impure. Photography records an instant of time. I want viewers of my work to see the same instant I saw, as I saw it, undistorted and unfiltered. 

These days I use a monochrome camera. It's a bit sharper than my eyes, but like that it has never seen colour, and it's freed me to follow that passion. 

I really enjoy taking photographs of flowers, plants and animals, things that are traditionally associated with colour.

Your own way
A photo titled 'Your own way'.(Photograph by Sean Walker)

I love the idea that no two interpretations of my photographs will be the same, because everyone gets to put their own view of the world rather than one that I have seen and tried to represent.

I hope people find my photographs interesting and engaging. Perhaps they'll even provoke a conversation.

They're usually dominated by strong lines, by the play of light and shade, and contrasts in tone and texture — the details that help me to navigate and make sense of the world.

I gravitate towards darker tones because I am very uncomfortable in high light, so I tend to photograph things at night or in dark places.

I have always been a little bit embarrassed to say the world is beautiful, because I know so much about it is colour. But, photography has allowed me to be unapologetic about the way I see the world.

I hope people find my world as beautiful as I do and see that black and white is much more than the absence of colour.

Sydney park
A scene from Sydney Park.(Photograph by Sean Walker)
Source: ABC

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