Christina Lonsdale of Radiant Human and her geodesic dome have traveled across the globe to give individuals a chance to discover their inner worlds. Her “aura portraits” are actually collaborative art works that explore color, psychology, philosophy, and dabble in the unknown. Unlike the curated social media portrayals of self which we share on the daily, Radiant Human’s portraits are raw, harnessing unseen energy to create an image that informs participants along their path to self(ie) actualization.
I talked to Christina about the process of making these vibrant, other-worldly shots, and what she has learned about the gaps between how we see ourselves, who we are, and how others see us.
M: What prompted you start Radiant Human?
C: There are a lot of layers to Radiant Human that interested me. I was particularly interested in how the camera works. The camera is a hand-built, modified Polaroid camera, that was invented in the 1970s. I didn’t invent it, but I did start using it differently. Traditionally this camera was used as a selling tool for crystal shops and psychic fairs because of its ability to document energy. They usually use it as a way to enhance a service like crystal healing or reiki sessions. They are able to show the differences in energy before and after a service. But I was interested in the idea of portraiture. In my images you will see more of a clear portrait of a human in addition to the energy that they create.
How they create energy is really interesting. It’s real. Our human bodies radiate a low level of electricity, very similar to a radio wave or a microwave. This was another point of inspiration for me, that we all essentially are broadcasting, naturally. For this camera to pick up that broadcast, I thought that was exceptional. What it is doing is identifying the wavelength of your body’s energy and matching it to a color. The way that we see color is through wavelengths. The way that our energy works is through wavelengths. So the camera is just matching the wavelength of your body’s energy to the wavelength of a color and that color comes out as a second exposure. So the first exposure is your physical portrait. The second exposure is the translation of your energy.
I was interested in showing that juxtaposition of the physical body and the energetic body. I think of this as a filter. We use Instagram and Snapchat filters through social media to adjust how we want to see ourselves. But with this camera, you can’t control how you see yourself in this photo. You’re interacting with this machine that is essentially reflecting back to you what you are energetically broadcasting. It’s a dialog between who we are really, and how we identify ourselves.
M: How do people react when their aura is revealed? Have participants had adverse or emotional reactions?
C: Yeah, it can be a very emotional experience. It’s pretty revealing. Sometimes people are not expecting that level of introspection. The way that the experience is set up at this time, you get what you put into it. If somebody is just coming in for a pretty photograph, they’re going to get one. But if someone is coming in to document something meaningful to them, a moment in time, then we’re going to talk about it. This project has a lot to do with what you see in it, just as much as what I see in it.
M: How has this project informed you more generally as an artist?
C: I’ve been doing this for five years, and there are a lot of interesting learnings that have come from it. I’m finally seeing this thread of what gets me going. I’m really interested in people, not only one person, but a mass of people. I went to college for Social Psychology and Multimedia —I double majored. I didn’t even put the two together at the time, but that is essentially what I’m doing now.
I think if there is anything that I’ve learned, it is the ability to be entranced and forever mystified by the tension between the fact that we are all very unique individuals but at the same time very similar. There is an interplay between individuality and connectedness.
M: If I entered your dome, walk me through the process of how you would capture my image.
C: It’s pretty organic. It depends on the subject. I would introduce the project and tell you how it works. You go into my dome, you sit down and then I direct you however I think might work, but I also leave it open. What I’ve noticed is that there are certain people who know exactly what kind of photograph they want, and there are others who are nervous, who don’t like being photographed, who request more direction from me. That’s the organic process part, it’s collaborative. Then you put your hands on two sensors. I take your photo. It takes about one minute for the photo to develop because this is real film. I use a rare film called FP100C. We open up the photo. It is a peel apart film, so there is this big reveal. Then I share with you what I’ve learned. In the beginning it was more about what I had learned from color psychology and from the chakras—an East meets West approach. I would say things like, “This is what color psychology says about green. Green is connected to the heart chakra, and this is what the heart chakra represents, how do you identify with this?” So we were on the bridge of science and mysticism. Now, I’m at 35,000 photographs, so I’ve been able to learn a lot about how people identify, not only with color, but with themselves. I’ve been finding some interesting consistencies with how we relate to the color and energy. It’s given me the impression that color itself is one of the most underrated communication tools there is.
A lot of people ask me, can you see auras? No I can’t. But do I believe in the possibility. We are unlimited in possibilities. I actually am not interested in seeing them. This about us interacting with a machine, this unbiased level playing field where it’s not only the subject that’s interacting with this machine, but it’s also me. So we’re both interacting with this machine and we have no control over what it is going to present. We’re interacting with the unknown, and with self image.
M: You shoot in a geodesic dome. Was that design intentional to give the experience a more scientific or other-worldly feel?
C: The dome is a really special thing for me. All 35,000 people that I have photographed have one thing in common. They have walked through that dome. I like that this is a shared experience. I like that me and the people I work with are ambassadors of that experience. I believe this dome holds space. It’s like my spaceship in a way, because I am traveling. I am essentially transporting this shared space all over the world. I believe that this is a portal to the exploration of energy—your energy. I wanted it to be a consistent space no matter where I was. I chose this structure because I wanted it to feel protected and I chose the shape because I know that spheres are better at holding energy than any other shape in the universe.
This dome contains a collective memory. If I allow myself to indulge my more “woo-woo” side, I believe this dome is the first checkpoint to a portal of a collective experience. By having a collective experience, you can build extensive bridges of connection between all types of people. By stepping into this dome with me, you are downloading a shared experience and subconsciously connecting to a vast community of people who are exploring beyond a two-dimensional world.
M: Plus it reminds people of Buckminster Fuller.
C: Yeah exactly! The FBI described him as an “affable weirdo,” which I love.
M: My final question is, who is left that you want to photograph?
C: My dream list is to photograph groups of people that you normally wouldn’t conceptualize as being connected to energy. I photographed gang members in San Diego and it was really amazing to share that experience with them and to learn how they identity with energy. I’m seeking people who aren’t typical subscribers of new age theory, who maybe don’t go to yoga class. What is really interesting to me is to document more people that you don’t really think of when you think of an aura.
We’re all human, we all have energy, whether it’s good vibes or bad vibes, we all have them and they become a part of how people see us. Being able to conceptualize this as image and explore the dynamics of self perception and self projection is what this project is all about.
Christina Lonsdale was part of the 5x5 speakers for the WeMake Disrupt conference on October 19th, 2018. She is currently working on a book which will be published by Harpers Collins.