Applications of Monochromatic Light
Recently colour has been a dominant subject in the public eye: yes, the colour of skin, the colour of hair, the colour of the car one drives, the colours of shoes, bags, smartphone cases, cereal boxes, post-it notes, the trend colours of next season, yes, it is important.
Colour is a main analysis tool and has been for a long time – bright colours mean beautiful but very poisonous, natural colours, generally a disguise, orange leaves – autumn is coming, yet the meaning of colour has evolved, slipped out of control in a way, causing major disagreements, racial issues, disposable trends.
What would happen if, for a limited amount of time, people chose not to use this tool? Let’s suppose one could see what skate fish would. It would look like this:
Or like this:
Yet, we still assume, letting our subconscious decide what we see.
The desaturated image of an apple we can see on the photo could be red, green, or yellow.
The only thing one could truly tell about the colour of the apple, is that it is darker thank the white (presumably) background. In fact, the apple could be blue too.
It’s difficult not to agree that as much as we gain from seeing colour, sometimes keeping to what one sees or assumes might prevent one from using the full capacity of their imagination.
Consequently, in order to question the function or appearance of objects, one has to let go of the ordinary assumption about them and observe them from a different perspective, which would leave more room for imagination and creativity.
One way to temporarily avoid colour perception, for instance, is being subjected to monochromatic light.
Monochromatic light is a very unusual scientific phenomenon, allowing only one colour of the light spectrum to be observed.
Unlike polychromatic lights, it is composed of single frequency waves and could be any colour. Laser lights, for instance, are monochromatic but coherent monochromatic light can come from many different sources.
Real light sources can never be absolutely monochromatic (they can never have zero optical bandwidth) but monochromatic light can be obtained through a light filter, called a monochromator.
Monochromators can filer out the unwanted wavelengths (all the other colours), emitted from the light source, so the only light emanated is the one of desired wavelength.
So far, monochromatic light has had a lot of applications. Different chemicals, for instance, absorb or emit different light wavelengths, so this means monochromatic light can be a diagnostic tool for chemical identification.
A more well-known application of monochromatic light is in criminology, where ultraviolet monochromatic devices are used to detect substances not visible to the naked eye.
Credit cards, currency, as well as important documentation, are often market with imprinted holograms, created by monochromatic laser beams.
The first more unusual application of monochromatic light observed, is an installation by Olafur Eliasson at the National Gallery in London, which is aiming at a more provocative representation of how this phenomenon can be used.
As part of the February 1997 exhibition Monochrome: Painting in Black and White, he created an installation by the name ‘Room for one colour’. What this installation showcased is a room, bathed in light from mono-frequency lamps, emitting light only in the yellow range of the visible spectrum.
Since yellow was the only visible colour in the room, all other colours appeared to be shades of yellow, black, or grey.
What is unusual about the installation is the inability of all visitors in the monochromatic room to read colour, which after a while stimulates the human vision to look for details and leads to a momentary experience of visual hypersensitivity.
Drawing conclusions from this experiment, one could say that this lack of sensitivity towards colour could potentially provide useful in one’s attention to detail and sense of shape in general.
This raises the question of its potential usage in less traditional areas such as education, therapy, design process, and even product presentation.
Observing the experience visitors had in Eliasson’s monochromatic room, it can be examined how non objective the human perception of the outside world is, simply because vision itself is not objective.
Colour,perception, like most aspects of reality, is not fixed.
This ‘reality’ one is constantly surrounded by is dependent on the function of our perspective apparatus. How would the human perception of the world change if we ‘upgrade it’ – if we could see infrared or ultraviolet, or if we could see any micro details?
And how would it change if the human perception reduced to a minimum – if one could only see a few centimeters ahead (like ants), we wouldn’t even know there are stars, or sky; or how would it change if one could only see one colour?
Introducing such experiences to the wider audience would help make people more aware of the limited perceptions of the human body and introduce another perspective, other than the reality we perceive.
It would, in a sense, ‘recalibrate’ our vision and let us see things that we might have failed to notice before, due to sensory overload.
Taking a step back to observe and question is, therefore, a particularly good educational method in a time where information is coming from everywhere and blunting our senses for a lot of important aspects of life.
It might be needed for most human beings to step back in order to re-learn how to prioritize, to filter out all the sensory information, just like monochromators. Only then can we learn to question everything and ask the right questions.
Another non-traditional usage of monochromatic light could be in therapy. Monochromatic colouring of living and public spaces has been known to create a soothing effect. As lighting has an immense influence on how a room ‘feels’, incorporating the filtering qualities of monochromatic light could have a calming and comforting impact on patients who suffer from depression and would be especially suitable for treating stress. A certain amount of time, spent in a less overwhelming environment, would be particularly good for meditation, breathing exercises, or simply for reflection, providing a place one could reduce the amount of information coming their way.
This is also a clue for designers. The latest trends with using monochromatic colour palettes allow for more visibility of all details and textures, without the product being too overwhelming.
The reasons for this are several. Firstly, the monochromatic colour palettes create a harmonious and visually cohesive look, which is pleasant for the eye.
Secondly, it lets other aspects of the content shine: like shape, manufacturing quality, innovative details, and all this in a very subtle way.
It also makes it easier for brands to be associated with a specific colour and therefore, engage customers visually.
Lastly, it is always easier to construct a colour palette of monochromatic colours, becase they are all shades of the same hue, and always go well together.
Taking this concept to the next level, this could be applied in the design process itself. For instance, all prototyping stages could be made slightly less overwhelming if the colour discussion is just omitted in early stages, allowing one to focus entirely on construction and workmanship.
Exhibiting a certain product in a room with monochromatic lighting is another non-traditional approach to showcasing the technical qualities of a product. Then the emphasis would switch from the trend-based assets to truly exceptional concepts, which could prove to be the basis for long-lasting innovation.
In this way, monochromatic light provides room for thought and questions and a more future-proof and conflict-proof vision for the world. It allows us to step back from this faceted reality and enjoy a more simple way of living where colour is not all we judge by.