She's Like a Rainbow
Aura photographer Christina Lonsdale of Radiant Human shows her subjects’ true colors.
By Zara Surti
Having your portrait taken by Portland, Oregon–based photographer Christina Lonsdale is not your average photo shoot. First there’s the mini geodesic dome that acts as her traveling portrait studio. Then, attached to her Polaroid camera are the sensors where you place your hands, which gauge your biofeedback. Lastly, there’s the image itself. It comes out of the camera like a typical Polaroid, but once the film develops, you see not only yourself but also your aura, whatever color(s) it may be. Perhaps there are hints of green, which can represent determination, or yellow, the color of optimism. It’s this image and Lonsdale’s interpretation of the colors’ meanings, which she provides through a brief reading and a cheat sheet you can take home, that people are clamoring to get, at her studio as well as at the various pop-ups she holds in cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles (her recent event at Echo Park shop Otherwild boasted a seven-hour wait list). But as soon as you step into her geodesic dome and see the results of her aura camera—invented in the ’70s by a California man named Guy Coggins—you’ll understand the hype. We sat down with the founder of Radiant Human to talk about energy, life on a commune, and just what she’s actually photographing.
What sparked the idea for Radiant Human?
Getting laid off [laughs]. It was the most stressful and validating year of my life. It really felt like a birth for me, because I had this time to develop myself. I finally had the resources to take a step back and figure out what felt right—it was the first time in years I had the time and money to be able to do that.
How did you come up with the name?
The name was inspired by the idea that we’re all broadcasting. I really want to be able to create an experience where people can explore what they’re putting out into the world.
There’s an early book about auras called The Human Atmosphere that Walter John Kilner published in 1911. I was really inspired by the idea of the human atmosphere—how humans have atmospheres and so does the Earth. My compass for my brand was more NASA, less Burning Man.
Have you always wanted to be a photographer?
I’ve always been interested in photography, but I wasn’t a professional photographer by any means. Throughout my life, I’ve been interested in creating experiences. For example, I threw a surprise party for my friend where I hid everybody in a U-Haul truck and had tons of those magnetized LED lights—they were everywhere in the truck. I took my friend to dinner, and when we came out of the restaurant, everyone jumped out of the truck. Then we all got in and had a huge party. Why not, you know?
Can you explain how aura photography works?
The silver hand sensors read your electromagnetic energy and vibrational frequency, translate it to a color, and that color comes out as a second exposure on a Polaroid.
How do you read the colors in the photos?
Everything above the ears is your consciousness. The bottom left is incoming energy or how you view the world, and the bottom right is your persona or how the world perceives you. There’s no bad color, it’s just how they interact. I’m no psychic, and I’m not trying to be—I just say what I see and let people figure the rest out.
Do you find that people’s auras can completely change?
Most of the time, yes. I’ve been taking photos of myself pretty regularly, and it’s really fascinating to see how the colors shift for me—it’s like a visual diary. I used to shoot the same color for about six months when I was starting the company. It was purple and red, and I called it my Rothko. The purple symbolized my dream and vision, and the red symbolized the stress of starting a business and having vulnerable dreams. Red is the will to survive and represents courage. Red also stands for new beginnings and is the first color we identified in our linguistic history.
Have you ever photographed someone with one pure color? What are the most common colors?
Yes, actually, one-colors are really interesting. I shoot so many combo colors, so it really takes you back to see someone who is totally one color. As far as common colors, tan, which represents detail orientation and logic, comes out a lot. I wonder if it’s the places I’m touring, because I’ve been doing San Francisco and L.A., and [people in those cities] seem pretty task-oriented. It’s super trippy when you think about it.
What was your life like growing up?
My dad started a commune back in the 1960s, and it was called Lorien, named after an elf forest in The Lord of the Rings. It was in New Mexico, and I lived there until I was 10. Then I moved to Southern California, which was a total fucking crazy change. Being a wild feral hippie child and moving to Santa Barbara, it was like night and day. I was a hippie kid one day, and then I was going to school with [actress] Jane Seymour’s daughter the next. I was a social recluse; I was so not cool, oh my god.
Also, my mom is a visionary painter; she’s been doing it forever. She paints auras and goddesses that she sees in her meditations.
So, you had the coolest childhood ever.
No [laughs]. Naturally, I rebelled and joined a corporation. I moved to Los Angeles, dyed my hair, and got into fashion.
Your studio in Portland seems really rad. Tell us about it.
I have a studio that I really love. There’s a whole concept to it—I’m super vibey, so I guess I’m allowed to get a little weird with it. It’s in a warehouse and doesn’t have any signs. There’s a mazelike hallway to get to it—every door looks the same, and there’s only numbers, so you have to try and find the number. I feel like it’s a really cool illustration of self-discovery, where you get to experience second-guessing yourself—it’s so similar to what life is like. I really wanted to offer that analogy in physical form. You have to go through this pathway to find this opportunity.
Anything else you’d like us to know?
My real name is Savitri.