Colour has always made me feel like a fraud. It looks so simple, so obvious, so…colourful. Yet a moment spent thinking about where it comes from and my mind feels faint: wave theory, the electromagnetic spectrum, those migraine-inducing squiggly lines I used to draw in school.
It hardly seems credible that squeezing or stretching a wiggly line manages to give us radio, cancer treatment and microwave meals. Let alone that peculiar white-purple effect under the UV lights of dodgy night clubs.
And then there’s colour. A whole world of colour.
Weirder still, every colour you see and file away in your memory, your mind has made up from a palette of three: red, green and blue according to neuroscience research. That’s all your retina can detect, everything else is conjecture.
And let’s not forget that around 5% of the population is colourblind and can’t even stretch to three.
Colour’s been creeping around my mind since I first heard about the “Capture the Colour” competition led by Travel Supermarket. They’re asking bloggers to post photos from their travels along the themes of red, white, yellow, green and blue. They, in their own way, wanted to know more about colour and hence this blog post was born. (Sorry, but this competition has now closed. I’ve kept the colour themed photos in though.)
Japan has cold air that bites, bites, bites but it makes the most of its northern snow with a flurry of igloo festivals throughout the winter. Wrapped up warm with nothing but hot sake to soothe my frostbite, I walked inside this snow church and saw puffs of frozen air appear before me. Outside it looked like a church. Inside, I found an altar with a makeshift cross and a figure that probably stood for Mary. But I also found relics from Shinto shrines and the curling gold leaves from Buddhist offerings.
A colleague read my surprise. “Japan is more relaxed about monotheism than the rest of the world. Once you’ve reached a thousand or so gods, what difference does another one make?”
Striking words, a striking image. Both linger with me.
On a computer screen, white may not be the colour that first jumps out at you. After hiking through the world’s oldest desert, it’s the only colour you can see. Sossusvlei, which translates to mean the dead place or dead valley, lies deep in the Namib desert, surrounded by swollen red dunes. One of the driest places on earth, the trees gave up on life hundreds of years ago yet the place is too dry for them to rot.
Humans can’t live in Sossusvlei, but oryx and spiders can – and the natural colours attract roaming photographers from across the world.
This fellow crept up on me. I’d been stalking barefoot along the sand, chasing after a brighter hermit crab with freckled apricot legs. Then I turned to see a flash of green.
The Seychelles have something of a jetset reputation yet their natural habitats remain their finest riches by far. The brochures may indulge themselves in coral blues and white, but it was this splash of green that grabbed by attention.
Colour. Sometimes that’s all you feel you see at the Formula One Grand Prix. Scarlet baseball caps bobbing in the air. Smduges of olive green and yellow, showy red and white, vibrant blue and orange, each blazing away in a shapeless blur surrounded by deafening noise.
If colour messes with my mind, that’s nothing compared to the illusion of speed. Fascinating, scary, mesmerizing stuff.
And finally: the explanation behind the top photo. Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country, was observing the fast of Ramadan when I visited last year. As sundown approached, towns sprang alive in their haste to reach the dinners that celebrated the end of that day’s fast. This woman was racing against the sun as I took this photograph – but I remember it for much more than just the yellows and blues.
The lines, just like the colours, make my head swirl in this one. Where is the horizon, the faithful straight line. Is it the curb of the pavement? The concrete step of the shop? The bottom of the shopfront? The top? It’s an image that just keeps on asking questions…
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com