by Robert Levy, MD
Since I’ve embarked on my second career as a professional photographer and as an inveterate globetrotter--always in search of the perfect combination of subject, timing, lighting, composition, and color--my obsession has been to capture imagery that surprises the eye. When my clients, friends, and exhibitors ask about how I achieve certain in-camera and production effects, they’re always surprised to learn that I’m red-green color blind.
What? is the usual reaction, because being color blind is presumed to be some sort of handicap for one purveying their skills as a visual artist. In my work, however, if being red-green deficient is a handicap, perhaps it’s actually an advantage; I’ll let those who see my photographs be the judge.
Red-green color blindness (deuteranopia in medical parlance) is the most common form of color perception deficiency, and is found in 6% of the male species...of which I’m a proud member. It’s caused by a recessive gene that affects the development of retinal cones, which send signals to the optic nerve. I’m not at all sure what its impact is upon my work, but there are research studies indicating that some degree of color blindness may actually increase the ability to distinguish certain hues.
I'm aware that what others see in a gorgeous pink sky, I don’t find particularly remarkable. Perhaps that leads me to seek other aspects of visual excitement, which might explain why I’m always looking for that “something different” in my compositions. When other people look at iconic, familiar vistas, landmarks, or objects, they share a common response to a common perspective...which I often do not. I frequently see a unique perspective, unusual hues, or that “certain special thing” that can only be captured at a single moment in time. Those are indeed rare images, but those are the pictures I’m after.
I may not take thousands of pictures, but when I shoot, I aim for that unique perspective captured at an indelible, fleeting instant. I’ve spent weeks in Alaska and in Africa humping my gear over glaciers and through jungles, only to shoot perhaps three pictures in an entire day and then to return home with but a handful of pictures. But a shot of a salmon leaping into the mouth of a bear, or a portrait of a leopard staring into my lens truly captures that “nailed it” moment every photographer dreams about.
As a shooter, my color blindness creates no limitations. Once in the lab, or when editing for color, I may well be limited in finding that “perfect pink sky,” but to me, there are no colors that ever need to be excluded or edited out. I love them all, even the ones I see only in my mind.