Have you ever gotten your aura photographed and thought to yourself, My energy is so gorgeous, it could double as a work of art?
No? Well, it could definitely happen to you soon. In fact, Christina Lonsdale has made a career out of it. As the founder of Radiant Human, the Portland, OR-based artist has spent the past three years touring the country taking technicolor-tinged portraits of people’s auras—and now through December 17, she’s got a pop-up residency at New York’s Whitney Art Museum. (See, woo-woo wellness really is going mainstream.)
The vaunted contemporary art museum is, in many ways, exactly where Lonsdale’s striking photographs should be. “I identify as a visual artist, first and foremost. So this is really about a new form of portraiture for me,” she explains. Of course, the style of photography just so happens to visually capture a person’s electromagnetic energy (at least, so said Semyon Krilian, the Russian electrical engineer who invented the process in the 1930s).
What that translates to is one-of-a-kind, palm-sized Polaroids where your face is surrounded by rainbow-hued blobs and haze, with each color indicating a part of your personality. The 20-minute sessions take place in a geodesic dome, where Lonsdale preps and positions you (in my case, she made sure my collar wasn’t too rumpled), has you place each hand on a metal sensor, takes the photo (which requires sitting still for a few seconds), and then—after the big reveal—talks you through the image. Experiencing this all in the midst of the Renzo Piano-designed lobby, just steps away from Georgia O’Keefe and Cindy Sherman masterpieces, only enhances the mind-opening experience.
“This camera’s offering a bridge between science and mysticism—this is a way to make our energy visible,” says Lonsdale. “It’s more like a visual diary, a memorable experience of how you perceive things, how you perceive yourself, how I perceive you, how you perceive color.”
But arguably the trippiest part of it all, according to the photographer, is the fact that this healing art form has finally transcended cult status. “When I started, aura photography existed in obscurity—at renaissance fairs and crystal shops. It was not cool,” she says. “Now people are like, When can I get a photo? My primary challenge [is no longer] explaining how it works and what it is—which is amazing.” (In fact, tickets for Radiant Human’s 10-day residency sold out before Lonsdale even touched down in New York—luckily, she set aside about half of each day’s sessions for walk-ins so take a long lunch break and head to the Meatpacking District.)
Instead, it’s up to each subject to decide what they want to get out of their aura reading experience. “A big part of this is being a mirror, essentially; you get what you put in,” she explains. “If you just want a cool photo, you’re going to get a cool photo no matter what. But if you want to commemorate a death in your family, if you want to commemorate a raise, something good, something bad, it doesn’t matter because it’s going to show. And that, in my mind, is the brilliance of what this is.”
Radiant Human x The Whitney Residency, $35, 99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY, radianthuman.com
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