Ms. Lonsdale is based in Portland, Ore., but has been traveling almost nonstop over the last three years, including a 10-day residency at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2016. Word of mouth and, most notably, Instagram have fueled her cult following; she’s done more than 20,000 portraits at this point.
She has also started getting commissions to shoot Alexander Wang and Gwyneth Paltrow, and she set up shop at the actress Zosia Mamet’s wedding.
I saw Ms. Lonsdale, who grew up on a commune in New Mexico, on one of her frequent trips to New York. I met her in a loft in the meatpacking district. Spread out everywhere were some of her favorite portraits that she was considering for a website redesign: a young boy almost entirely enveloped in purple; a couple with nearly identical auras when photographed separately; even a guy I know but haven’t seen in years with “going through a breakup” scrawled on the back as a note.
I was not quite nervous but definitely ill at ease. I would rather get my teeth cleaned or do two Barry’s Bootcamp classes back-to-back than get my picture taken. Whenever I see myself in photos, it’s like hearing my recorded voice or repeating my name over and over until it sounds foreign. Is it even me? I have a recurring dream that I get my picture taken and the person in it has a completely different face and hair color than my own.
In fact, I really preferred to get my dog’s aura photographed — think of what I could learn about my highly photogenic bulldog! — but Ms. Lonsdale doesn’t do animal clients, so I submitted for a sitting.
She tours with a mobile studio that looks like a geodesic dome and is roughly the size of an apartment bathroom. I entered it and sat on a little stool. Ms. Lonsdale blotted my relentlessly shiny face, told me to lay my hands palm down on the sensors, and moved behind her camera.
I stared at her, trying to remember…