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the portrait machine

These portraits are made with a Polaroid aura camera developed in the 1970s by an American scientist in an attempt to record what a psychic might see. This project explores the idea that a portrait photograph can reveal an otherwise unseen and accurate insight into the subject’s character.

The subject is connected directly to the camera by hand-plates that measure biofeedback, which the camera depicts as an aura of color in the Polaroid and translates into a printed diagram and description explaining the cameras interpretation of the subject. It also explains separately, what the the subject is expressing and how they are seen by others, such as the photographer, suggesting the camera bypasses the control of the photographer and subject in making the portrait. This printout, which includes information about the subjects emotions, potential, aspirations, future, etc. is presented to the viewer along with each photograph in a similar manner to a caption.

The aura camera has undertones of pseudo-scientific authority and attributes associated with a less mediated type of photography. It’s a modified land camera that uses instant film and has only one button, allowing the photographer little control over the mechanisms mediating the portrait making process.

Aura photography is a relatively recent offshoot of spirit photography. Unlike attempts to record images of ghosts, aura photography evolved from a type of spirit photography – popular around the time diagnostic imaging devices like the x-ray emerged — which sought to objectively measure and document unseen aspects of the human body.

I am photographing people who are familiar to me, or that I have expectations of — including friends and people whose personalities are in the public sphere.

Von Carlo Van de Roer.

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