It's a bit embarrassing to admit, but I love pseudoscience. When I was still a teenager, I used to spend hours pouring over the handwriting analysis of serial killers absolutely convinced that graphology was a legitimate career choice. I got way into astrology. My sun is Gemini, my moon Taurus, and my ascendant Leo. My Myers-Briggs told me I'm an INTJ, which all together means I'm pretty much an asshole.
Even today, I visit an acupressurist whenever I feel a cold coming on. I came to believe that all those post-therapy bruises means it's working. But one thing I always wanted to do but never had the chance to try was aura photography. It's one of those New Agey technologies where a special camera takes a photo that's washed in color. The colors apparently mean something about your aura, but, to me, the whole thing feels like some fancy spiritual Instagram filter.
Recently these photos started to appear in my Twitter feed. A couple had theirs taken and the hues were the same, which, apparently, means they were pretty in-sync. I started to wonder "what's my aura look like?" Can someone really read my personality with a photo? A quick search found that there was only one place in all of Jakarta still doing aura photography, a spot simply called Foto Aura, up in Mall Mangga Dua, in Central Jakarta.
The website I was reading told me to see a man named King Gunawan, an expert who was actually trained by Guy Coggins, the US engineer who discovered aura imaging photography back in the '80s. Well, I decided, that was it. I have to see the king.
I ventured out to Mangga Dua on a Sunday. My body felt wrecked from the night before and I didn't get anywhere near enough sleep. I was worried it would affect my aura. "What if we find out that one of us is actually Satan?" my friend asked. By the time I arrived, I had convinced myself that I'd end up with a completely black photo that proved all my mom's worst worries correct.
We arrived at a shop with Foto Aura advertised outside. A man who introduced himself as the assistant led us through a flight of stairs. The door to the office upstairs read "KING GUNAWAN – AURA CONSULTANT & PHOTOGRAPHER, PARAPSYCHOLOGIST, TELEPATHIST." Inside, I met King. The room was a bit dated and threadbare. There was a large cabinet that was mostly empty aside from a folder and a few landline telephones. An aging black PC sat on a desk, the monitor atop an even older white computer tower that still had a 3X5 floppy disk drive.
The assistant told me to sit in a chair and put my hands on these blue metal plates that had wires running out of them. He covered me in a black sheet and asked me to lean back. A light was shining on my face. The camera itself was a large box, about the size of an old VCR, set up on a tripod.
I stared into the camera for a few seconds and then it was done. A printer nearby started to print out my results and King took the page and began his analysis. I stared at the photo. In it, a vibrant cloud of orange haze took over most of the shot, so much so that it nearly obscured my face. But I was still in there, a disembodied head floating in the middle of an orange aura like some kind of psychic god.
King explained that all that orange meant I had a lot of creative energy. He told me that I was social, confident, brave, and determined to get what I want. He said that I want to be seen and heard, but that I tend to be a bit egotistical and quick to change my mind. Oh, and he said sex wasn't really a priority at all and that I approach people with ease, then quickly forget about them.
I felt… exposed. I didn't expect my reading to feel so spot-on. I was sure that he probably left out some bad parts of my personality, but all-in-all I felt like it was pretty accurate. When he was done with the reading I stuck around to chat. I wanted to know more about his past and how he learned to analyze these photos.
King explained that his business was burned down during the anti-Chinese riots of May '98. He lost everything in the riots. King said he was heartbroken and unsure how to recover when he suddenly got a call from his friend in the United States who wanted to tell him about aura photography.
"After that traumatic experience, I couldn’t just start another business," King told me. "It took me 30 years to build it, and it was gone just like that."
He decided to take his friend's advice and fly to the US for a training course in aura photography. Well, he wasn't really into the idea at first, but his friend just kept calling. Eventually King decided to give it a try.
"He told me that the purpose of aura readings was to see someone's character in order for them to reach their full potential," King explained. "When he mentioned this to me, I started to consider the possibility of moving to the US."
King left with his wife, who spoke better English, and enrolled in a course that took him six months to complete. During the first week, everything seemed so hard. Guy Coggins's methods involved a lot of pseudo-scientific terms that were alien to King. There were things like electromagnetic waves and nanometers—all stuff that was so different from his previous job, which was mostly office work like answering phones. But then Coggins gave him a crystal pendant. King showed it to me, pulling it out from under his shirt.
"In a week, my mind seemed to calm down," he told me. "My anxiety disappeared and I could focus on my lessons."
When he returned to Indonesia, King opened up a store and had some friends help promote it on the radio. A lot of people thought he was a psychic, but he insists that it's all a science. He even once did some research into aura photography with the faculty members at the University of Indonesia. He later published a book about aura photographs and crystals in 2003.
His story left me feeling deeply moved. In a way, King was using aura photos and crystals to make sense of a chaotic world. It felt more than a little similar to how I find comfort in pseudoscience like astrology. The world is a difficult, turbulent, and often confusing place. Who wouldn't fall in love with something, anything really, that helps make some sense of it all?
His reading also left me with a lot to think about.
"You're going to be a successful person!" he told me with a smile.
I know it seems a bit foolish to think that the colors in this image can actually tell me something about myself, but I left Foto Aura with this strange sense of relief—like I had learned something important about who I was. Well, that and a great photo to hang on my bedroom wall, of course.