Visible Light: Colorism and Perception

Photographs and words by Ronan Mckenzie

Styling by Tess Herbert

Light touches all that we see, giving way to a world of complex shapes, tones, and textures—from the skin to the walls we live in.

If the space between ourselves and others is the lens through which we understand our surroundings, our skin—as the first and last place from which we experience what is external—becomes the focal point for our perception of others. The ways in which light interacts with our skin becomes a prism that can distort, subvert, or provide nuanced context of a person depending on our previous experiences and learnings. The stories and histories carried within a specific tone or texture of a complexion are ones that are amplified, told, retold, and warped, to create complex connotations of one’s skin which do not serve this present day. This is impacted by our environment, as well.


When creating a welcoming space of rest and safety, Remi Connolly-Taylor—the architect behind the building that housed this story—began with the concept of light. Built sustainably, embracing local materials and labor, one focus was how to use light alongside depth to create a sense of expansiveness, opening up unused space deep down in the ground and flooding it with light. Upstairs, she diffused what could be harshness from the outside, using a frosted glass light box to create a gentle shield from which a subtle lens of care is extended to those moving through the environment, embracing the beauty of those within, the prism of light creating an atmosphere of peace. 


Here, we present an exploration of how an intimate environment can inform one’s perception of color; how the tonal and textural differences in complexion, and the reflecting and bouncing of light from the curve of one cheekbone to another interacts with our understanding of one another and holds the power to create new perspectives. 


TALENT Adhel Chol (First), Jane Fu (XdirectN), Eilene Heo (Milk), Ayuol Manyok (Milk), Maansi Mehta (Established), Adele Ruboneka (Milk), India Sampson (Next), Peipei Tang (Milk), Jordan Whittingham (Next), Asha Yusuf (Premier) MAKEUP Michelle Boggs HAIR Shamara Roper (Future Rep) SET DESIGN Tobias Blackmore TALENT DIRECTOR Jonathan Johnson PRODUCTION the.curated PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS Ibby Azab, Josh Moseley STYLING ASSISTANT Stephanie Aelbrecht SET DESIGN ASSISTANT George Dainton MAKEUP ASSISTANT Deborah Hardman HAIR ASSISTANT Chaniqwa Brown PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Katie Holmes SPECIAL THANKS remi.ct Studio

This article first appeared in Atmos Volume 07: Prism with the headline “Visible Light.”

Shop Atmos Volume 07: Prism

A prism is a multidimensional body that refracts, disperses, or in some cases, distorts light. Atmos Volume 07: Prism is a study of light, color, dimension, and perspective. It asks such questions as: How do we find the light in a world that can feel so dark? How do our identities shape the lenses through which we experience reality? How do we move past binary thinking and embrace a more prismatic or nuanced view of the world? How do ideas disseminate and refract? What role does transparency play in that process? What symbolism do specific colors hold, in both the human and natural world?

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Visible Light: Colorism and Perception


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