For the last 40 years, aura-imaging cameras have been used almost exclusively by psychics, therapists, and other mental health and healing professionals. But beyond this realm of work, aura-imaging technology has been largely out of the limelight, until 2008 when New Zealand native and Brooklyn-based photographer Carlo Van de Roer began experimenting with the decades-old equipment for his photo series and first book, “The Portrait Machine Project,” published last month.
The colorful visual representations of aura-imaging were invented in the 1970’s by Guy Coggins. He marketed the biofeedback technology to have the capability of objectively capturing unseen energies, much like mood rings. With hands placed flat on the electromagnetic sensors, a person sits in front of the AuraCam 6000 for about 10 seconds while the machine reads the “energy” from the pressure points along the meridian of the hands (the measurement also used by acupuncturists) and translates the data into splashes of color onto Polaroid.
Along with each portrait, Van de Roer published their respective aura-imaging charts that explain the appearance of each color, each of which represent a certain characteristic. The position of the colors on the portraits differ in meaning, too: The center color above their heads shows what they’re experiencing, the color that appears to their right indicates how they express themselves and how they are perceived by others, and the color to their left represents what they have in store for the future.
Van de Roer first started exploring aura-imaging with his friends and family, playing with the idea of revealing unseen feelings and emotions of the people he’s always known the most. He went on to photograph more public figures, such as performance artist Miranda July, installation and performance artist Terence Koh, and Tim Barber, a fashion and editorial photographer. These are people who Van de Roer says have become certain targets for public expectation, so the aura they emit is especially telling. Whether the intentions of Coggins’ aura-imaging technology are real, Van de Roer challenges our expectations of a portrait’s true representational nature, especially portraits of those we think we know best.
“The Portrait Machine Project” photo series is showing at Washington, D.C.’s RandallScottProjects gallery until August 10, with an opening reception and book signing on July 20.