The Flower-Popping Power of Purple Lenses

Me with a grapefruit and purple-lensed glasses. Left: naked eye. Right: view through purple lenses.

To see things differently doesn’t always mean seeing more. Limiting the senses– a candlelight dinner, a silent cathedral–enhances sensory experience.

One way to limit color vision is to wear colored lenses. I have been wearing purple lenses as sunglasses, and occasionally indoors, for several weeks weeks. They came in a pack of 12 assorted colored sunglasses from a company called Glo-X. 

Glo-X sunglasses.

As blue blocker sunglasses use amber lenses to stop blue, purple lenses reduce yellow-green light.

Wearing purple lenses has given me a deep appreciation for red-orange flowers against a dulled green background. And I was surprised to learn that they correct, in part, for the kind of color blindness that doesn’t see green.

Here are my favorite 5 things about this purple landscape:

1. Purple lenses cut out greenish light, making the world look less like an office.

I first wore these glasses spontaneously on a daytime walk near the ocean. They made everything look better in a way that didn’t seem to have much to do with color. It had an exotic feeling that I couldn’t quite place, like the colors of somewhere I had never been.

Sea Ranch, CA. Left: naked eye view. Right: Through purple lenses

Switching from regular to “purple haze” view isn’t dramatically different, and the effect seems mild. But take them off and the yellow-green floods back dramatically. Friends who tried the glasses on exclaimed much more loudly upon taking them off : green grass glowed, and the daylight itself felt like an overhead office fluorescent in the sky.

Classic office detail of plaster tiles and fluorescent light. Left: naked eye view. Right: Through purple lenses

Accordingly, fluorescent correction lenses for cameras use purple lenses.

 

2. Orange and yellow glow red-hot.

Any yellow or orange would catch immediately in my peripheral vision as a firey red-orange.  The first time I dramatically noticed it was in the office on a table of citrus that was so bright it could barely be photographed.

Office tableau. Left: naked eye view. Right: Through purple lenses

I began looking for orange everywhere I go, as if I was looking for something that glowed in the dark.  

Left: naked eye view. Right: Through purple lenses

Aside from translating the yellows and oranges as orange-red, the glasses dulled the greens in the background:

3. Without bright yellow-green surroundings, flowers inhabit an alien new world

As the brightness of colors is largely determined by the colors that surround it, this made some flowers “pop” as never before:

Left: naked eye view. Right: Through purple lenses

It reminded me of a dutch painting I’ve always loved of a lily at night. Filtering the painting through the purple lenses, I now see that it was already in the palette of the world through purple glasses.

Dutch painting of in the Legion of Honor collection, San Francisco. Left: naked eye view. Right: Through purple lenses

4. People with red-green color blindness can suddenly see previously invisible flowers.

After I wrote about my color blind project, many people asked me if Brian had “tried the [color blind correction] glasses”, and he did, but the $300 (returnable)  EnChroma pair didn’t work very well.

But the other day, he tried the purple-lens glasses on while I was photographing red geraniums, and could suddenly see previously hidden flowers.

These red geraniums are camouflaged to the red-green colorblind (left), but contrasting with the glasses on (right).

Most of the green is removed from the color blindness itself; the glasses cut out yellow as well as any remaining green, leaving two very different and contrasting colors. Red geraniums popped out, and rosebushes lit up with roses. He said that the experience was startling, like suddenly realizing there were spiders all over a tree, or ants covering a donut.

Similar purple lenses are sold as both color blind and blood draw glasses (to help see subcutaneous veins) as well as  forestry supplies that can detect death in plants days before the naked eye can see.

Here are the same plants through purple lenses as seen with non-color-blind vision.

Left: naked eye. Right: purple lenses.

5. Like all lenses that reduce color range, they offer the satisfaction of a limited palette. 

The world is so messily colorful that anything that limits the palette has a certain enhancement of style, like zoning laws keeping historic houses limited in color and size. Georgia O’Keeffe was famously so sensitive to color that she wore black and white only.

The color palette as seen through these purple glasses is seeping into my subconscious. I came across this Paul Klee painting in this palette and had the urge somehow re-organize my whole life around it:

Paul Klee. “Growth of the NIght Flowers”, 1922. Left: naked eye view. Right: Purple lens enhancement. Source: wikiart.org

The glasses expanded my imagination, making uninteresting things come alive by limiting the palette. With each limitation of vision is a distinct gift, as wearing blue blocker glasses gave me the vision of a totally pink sky at dawn and dusk. So far, the best gift these green blockers are the images of red-orange flowers in seas of dull bluish green.

Left: naked eye view. Right: Through purple lenses

All Photos by Emily Wick Unless Otherwise Noted