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Getting Your Aura Photographed Is the New Age Selfie

By Bianca Husodo


In the midst of a renewed interest in the kitsch frivolities of New Age culture and a modern society that flourishes on selfies, aura photography seems to be the marrying of both states. The notion of fleshing out of one’s energy fields — an invisible halo-like radiation around the body — on a strip of film does glow a timely contemporary allure. Like astrology and other celestial escapades of the same vein that are resurging, its current followers aren’t solely made of cult-like devotees. In pursuit of holistic wellness, experimental millennials are increasingly tapping into mystical conduits.

A couple of years ago, a batch of well-known designers and personalities — Gwyneth Paltrow, Alexander Wang, Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, Joseph Altuzarra — had their auras captured and assessed by Christina Lonsdale, a Portland-based artist deemed the Annie Leibovitz of aura photographers. Actress Zosia Mamet famously went as far as swapping the traditional photo booth for Lonsdale’s aura-reading geodesic dome at her wedding. Of course, most of the multicoloured results made their way into their respective Instagram grids. They rapidly orbited an uprising trend for these extrasensory visuals.

Yet, lacking concrete scientific underpinnings, is there more to aura reading beyond being another pretty picture to post on the ’gram?

I’ve always been a sceptic of supernatural hocus-pocus, but having recently delved into the intricacy of astrology and finding it quite a charming pastime, I decided to give this a try. I set up an appointment with Yi Xin, a 33-year-old aura reader at Kang Li Mineral Kingdom — a spiritual practitioner offering a host of services, from geomancy to crystal healing, since 1989.

Housed in Fu Lu Shou Complex’s hub of spiritual practitioners, Kang Li’s two-level shop is an emporium of curiosity. Rows of wooden shelves and cabinets filled with crystals, jades, rocks and talismans line its interior. Somewhere, a tiny fountain hidden among the novelties trickles a soothing ripple soundscape. And right by the store’s entrance stands the aura-reading camera. It resembles that of archaic heyday cameras that burst with a pompous smoke when they flash.

“Auras represent our current state of mind. It’s based on the seven chakras,” explains Yi Xin. Supposedly, only certain people are born with the ability to see them with the naked eye. And it wasn’t until the early ’70s when one Guy Coggins hand-built a camera that could allegedly perceive and record the electromagnetic field surrounding the body through photos taken with two exposures. One is a normal picture of the subject. The other, layered on top of the first, captures information through hand sensors which practitioners claim translate body’s electricity into the colours of the subject’s aura.

Arriving at Kang Li, I’m ushered to sit on a cushioned wicker chair and served a porcelain cup of warm mint tea, meant to help achieve a state of relaxation. Whenever I’m ready, I can move to the bench facing the camera and lay my hands palm down on the sensors, Yi Xin smilingly instructs me. After doing so, I glance at the laminated sign stuck underneath the camera. It tells me to “relax and not forget to breathe and smile”. So I do. And then after ten or fifteen seconds, I’m done.

Yi Xin leads me to a booth. She peels the film off to reveal my aura portrait. The result: a hazy, dreamy painting, strobed with blobs or arches of colours bleeding into each other. Above my head is a rainbow-like arc in light indigo, speckled with three faded white spots. It fades into a vivid yellow, which fades into an encircling deep red. On my right corner is a sole green patch.

Yi Xin, who rather not identify herself with any role title (“I’m a human who helps other humans,” she furtively quips), has parsed auras for more than 16 years. Her parents, in fact, are founders and owners of Kang Li. She’s been part of the mystic trade throughout her life. On the table is a meticulous five-page report generated by a machine interconnected with the camera, but even a skim isn’t necessary for Yi Xin to burst into a rapid-fire assessment.

Mapping the aura photograph.
Mapping the aura photograph.

She interprets: yellow core is joy and curiosity; red is passionate and creative. “Your red makes up one whole block on the left. Everything that you do is very independent. It means that you’re busy and you take care of a lot of things,” she points out. She then moves on to the compartmentalised green spot. “This is called the benefactor’s luck, but yours is cut off. Meaning: you choose to rely on yourself rather than ask people for help.”

Later on, I flip through the report. The colour of the solar plexus, it states, “is normally the centre vibration of your being.” Mine, it decides, is a green-yellow solar plexus. It tells me that I’m experiencing “a growing time in which your outlook and attitudes are going through a transformational process. You feel the courage to feel joyful and hopeful about all the wonderful “newness” surrounding you.”

While that’s not entirely unreflective of what I think I’m undergoing, the report then detects aquamarine on my right side, which represents my expression: “The combination of blue and green, or aquamarine, shows you are a person of great depth and compassion. You would save the world if you could.” I refer back to the aura photograph. My right side is an ostensible blend of yellow, green and striking violet. No hint of aquamarine there.

I find hearing Yi Xin cheerily breaking down my aura, rather than reading what may just be machine-generated templates on A4 white sheets, preferable. There’s a somewhat cathartic after-effect in listening to a complete stranger dissecting the well-being of your chakras — even if it requires a heavy pinch of salt. It’s almost like going to therapy, sans the deep self-digging and hefty bill.

Yi Xin notes that overall, there’s nothing to really pick on; it’s one of the good auras, apparently. She then concludes with a suggestion, “You just need to generate a lot of positivity within. Meditation can help.” I can get a photograph taken 15 minutes later and get an entirely different result. Auras can change in an instant.

Why do people bother taking photographs of it then?

“Just to experience it, have a glimpse of the aura. It’s not necessary to keep retaking aura assessments. When you know too much about yourself, it becomes a pressure,” says Yi Xin. “Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.” One photogenic spectrum of colours printed on a Polaroid, after all, is decent enough to prettify one’s feed.