Black and White in Color: A Conundrum
Black and white in color? How could that be? That is a question that has intrigued me for almost forty years, and for most of those years I did not believe it was possible. To a person with “normal” color vision, black, white, and all shades of gray are pretty much devoid of what such a person may commonly think of as “color.”
Regular readers or those who have begun to follow my color vision posts may recall that both my father and my son have severe red deficient color vision. It is only recently that I have come to realize how much that shared view of the world was valued by both of them. And, until I began working on this project, I had no clue how little I understood about their world. Many of you have heard the story that when my son was around three or four years old, he and my father were watching a football game on our black and white television. Every now and then, one would say something about the blue team or the yellow team. The whole time I was thinking, “Come on, guys, give me a break. You think I’m going to believe two colorblind guys are seeing color on a black and white television?” Well, they were, and I wish I could tell my father I understand that now.
The primary colors of projected light, the way we see computer monitors, cell phones, televisions, are red, green, and blue – the RGB color space of projected or additive light. Red, green, and blue are the colors that make up what we see on these devices, whether or not we think we are seeing lack of color in blacks, grays, and whites.
My digital photography program was about equally divided between using the camera and using the computer. Additionally, I took extra classes in web design. Somewhere along the way I had fun playing with color on various online sites. One you might enjoy is HTML Color Picker. The initial color is set to white, R at 255, G at 255, B at 255. Play with those number and see what colors you get. If you have normal color vision, you will note that you see some color other than white, black, or gray if the numbers for Red, Green, and Blue are not the same.
Not until I began working with my son on the diptychs comparing normal color vision to severe red deficiency did I understand that not only did he and my father indeed see color on a black and white television, but also why and how that worked.
I am now beginning to work with other color deficiencies, and degrees of color deficiencies. The following quadtych of the rose ‘Leonidas’ in black and white shows normal vision in the upper left; then going clockwise, moderate red deficiency, moderate blue deficiency (rare), and moderate green deficiency.
Note that the color seen in the image is the complement of the deficient color: red>cyan; green>magenta; blue>yellow.
Seeing color colorblind to black and white in color – color vision is complex and beautiful.