Everyday Icon: The Radiant Human, Christina Lonsdale

This aura photographer opens up about the mystique behind her unique craft, plus some of her favorite experiences to date on her traveling tour.
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In the past three years, Christina Lonsdale hasn't been home for more than 20 consecutive days. While that may seem insanity-inducing — especially when home is Portland, Oregon — for the visual artist, traveling the world is fuel for her soul. That's because Christina is the driving force behind Radiant Human, a photographic laboratory that captures breathtaking portraits of the different colored energy we all emit.

"This camera really spoke to me because of my family history," she explained. "I was born into a commune that my dad started in the 1960s, my mom is a visionary painter that paints auras and sprints in her meditations, and my sister is a professional photographer. So this is just a natural amalgamation of a lot of lifelong influences."

On any given day you can find Christina and her geodesic dome (more on that later) all across the country, from Seattle to Atlanta to Nashville. Currently, she's in the middle of a ten-day residency at the Whitney Museum in New York. Her tour dates are regularly sold out because there's much more to her work than just beautiful portraiture. Once the photo is developed, she takes the time and care to sit with each person and discuss the meaning behind the colors of their aura. She's also happy to talk about how her equipment works, which is, in fact, one of her favorite subjects.

It's the sum total of the Radiant Human experience that makes it easy to understand why she isn't able to spend more than a few weeks at home — everyone is clamoring to have her come visit their city. Luckily for us, Christina's gifted passion keeps her going, because if ever there was a necessary moment to have our eyes opened to the magic surrounding us, it's definitely now.

We appreciate that you describe yourself as an artist and not a medium or psychic. How did you learn to interpret auras and the meaning behind the colors of energy people emit?

There is one main distinction between an artist and a medium. An artist is sharing their response to an experience; they have no obligation to provide the answer to that experience. Although I do believe you can find answers through art, it is not expected of the artist.

As a hippie kid growing up in the digital age, I definitely didn't have all the answers and I still don't. I created this project as an interactive portrait experience. In a world dominated by social media and selfies, we are broadcasting our current state of existence to strangers all the time. I felt like exploring this through a metaphysical lens was a really interesting concept that spoke to me personally.

Learning about auras was a generative thing for me. I was born into a commune in Taos, New Mexico. My mom, who still lives there, is a visionary painter who paints auras and spirits from her meditations. So both metaphysical concepts and the use of color have always been in my life.

When I started using aura photography as a tool to explore these concepts, color became a natural extension of meaning that created a really interesting grey area. I like the subjectivity of color and energy because there's no hierarchy of truth here, it's completely up to your perspective. I like this because it creates a platform for dialog and I believe that talking about the energy you are putting out into the world with a complete stranger is a uniquely powerful experience. One that stays with you for a long time.

Can you talk a little about the technical aspects of your photography? How does your camera equipment work?

This camera works on biofeedback. There are two hand sensors that translate your natural electricity into a color and that color is revealed in a second exposure on instant peel away film. The camera is not photographing your aura, because cameras can't see auras. What it is doing, however, is applying a color tribute to your energy so we can see it. Where this becomes subjective, obviously, is my interpretation of what these colors represent about you.

Do you have a most memorable moment thus far?

Photographing my grandmother before she died was really special to me.

What would you say is most challenging about your work?

Being everywhere at once (and packing for four different climates). Because this is a traveling experience, we get a lot of people asking when I will be visiting their city. It's been really amazing and really validating to hear from people all over the world. I've been working with the most amazing producer. She has helped me create a way for people to "vote for their city" on my website so we can tailor my tour to fit public response.

I know you were recently a part of Refinery 29'ss 29 Rooms installation in New York. What was that experience like?

OMG...29 Rooms was so rad! They could have had anyone, so I'm sure being limited to just 29 artists was a really rough decision process for them. So of course when they reached out about doing an interactive room together, I flipped. From beginning to end, they were a dream to work with...the production team was always manifesting solutions before you even knew there was a problem and I felt like the design team really got me and what I was trying to do, so creating my room was really a fun process. I mean, [in] the photos, I'm LITERALLY on the moon! In fact, they have a virtual tour so you can see all the rooms. I'm hoping to release a video of my room soon so even if you weren't there, you can still experience it.

Where would you say this project has taken you that you would have never believed possible?

There are so many fun stories. A famous fashion designer's terrace overlooking Central Park, a big rig trailer, a soft meadow overlooking a serene pond, a barren desert…and of course, you know, the MOON. The cool thing is that the geodesic dome that I shoot in neither looks at home or foreign in any of these environments. It has been one of my favorite unexpected aspects of the project.

What does an ideal day off in the life of Christina Lonsdale look like?

It depends where I am! But there are definitely some consistencies no matter what my location is. I sleep in, my phone is off. I most likely have an elegant breakfast. I walk among plants and living things. I go to a place of inspiration and observe. I read. I talk to strangers. I take a wrong turn and find my new favorite place. I don't make plans. I don't have to be anywhere. I don't even know what time it is because it doesn't matter.

p.s. Have you met this magazine editor who's getting girls and teens talking about feminism?