Aura Photographs: Selfies for the New Age Set

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In the middle of the Venn diagram that charts our renewed interest in all the trappings of New Age culture and a society that thrives on selfies is the aura photograph.

Your aura? On film? Well, sort of.

In the early 1970s a camera was developed that was said to record the electromagnetic field surrounding the body, through Polaroid photos taken with two exposures. The first is a normal picture of you. The second records information via hand sensors that practitioners claim identify your body’s electricity and match it to a color. That color comes out in the second exposure.

The result is a portrait that’s hazy, dreamy, streaked with blobs or arches of color that can be interpreted like tea leaves or your star sign: White is open-minded and nonjudgmental; blue is depth of feeling and loyalty.

You can get them done at Magic Jewelry in Chinatown in New York, but the Annie Leibovitz of aura photographers is Christina Lonsdale of Radiant Human. (Just be sure you don’t call her an aura photographer to her face. Her publicist wanted me to know that “she is a visual artist using aura photography to explore perceptions and the human atmosphere.” Got that?)

Ms. Lonsdale is based in Portland, Ore., but has been traveling almost nonstop over the last three years, including a 10-day residency at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2016. Word of mouth and, most notably, Instagram have fueled her cult following; she’s done more than 20,000 portraits at this point.

She has also started getting commissions to shoot Alexander Wang and Gwyneth Paltrow, and she set up shop at the actress Zosia Mamet’s wedding.

I saw Ms. Lonsdale, who grew up on a commune in New Mexico, on one of her frequent trips to New York. I met her in a loft in the meatpacking district. Spread out everywhere were some of her favorite portraits that she was considering for a website redesign: a young boy almost entirely enveloped in purple; a couple with nearly identical auras when photographed separately; even a guy I know but haven’t seen in years with “going through a breakup” scrawled on the back as a note.

I was not quite nervous but definitely ill at ease. I would rather get my teeth cleaned or do two Barry’s Bootcamp classes back-to-back than get my picture taken. Whenever I see myself in photos, it’s like hearing my recorded voice or repeating my name over and over until it sounds foreign. Is it even me? I have a recurring dream that I get my picture taken and the person in it has a completely different face and hair color than my own.

In fact, I really preferred to get my dog’s aura photographed — think of what I could learn about my highly photogenic bulldog! — but Ms. Lonsdale doesn’t do animal clients, so I submitted for a sitting.

She tours with a mobile studio that looks like a geodesic dome and is roughly the size of an apartment bathroom. I entered it and sat on a little stool. Ms. Lonsdale blotted my relentlessly shiny face, told me to lay my hands palm down on the sensors, and moved behind her camera.

I stared at her, trying to remember to gaze the way you look at someone you’re in love with, which is a trick a friend of mine attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to Sofia Coppola. The only direction from Ms. Lonsdale was to move my head a bit toward her. And then, after a minute or two at the most, I was done.

She rubbed my photo with her hand as it developed and then peeled the film off to reveal my portrait. There I was, looking as if I were trying to stare someone into submission, only the suggestion of a smile on my face.

Before I could obsess over whether I always look so intense, I noticed the colors: a perfect arc over my head in deep indigo, which faded into a warm purple, which faded into beige. The right side of my body was bordered in purple and the left in green.

Ms. Lonsdale explained that everything above my head represents my state of mind. The arc — which not everyone has — symbolizes a goal or aspiration.

“Blue embodies a lot,” she said. “Banks use blue in branding because it instills trust and a sense of community. The magenta purple is the connection point of the ethereal and material, and the tan is to-do list and calendars.”

The self and persona is the bottom. The green on the right of the photo is about growth and forward progress. “Purple interior means you’re a dreamer at heart,” Ms. Lonsdale said. The most striking thing is how compartmentalized my colors are.

I could get a photograph taken five minutes later and may get an entirely different result. “It’s all about identifying if there’s a consistency and commonality,” Ms. Lonsdale said. “Color is one of the most underrated communication tools.”

And perhaps they are best understood visually. One could interpret virtually anything from the colors, but taken as a series, it’s possible that I might be able to identify real patterns or change. At least I finally have a decent picture of myself.