now on view in NYC

Self Power | Self Play: 50 Years of Erotic Portraiture by Linda Troeller

“Exploring erotic ideas has fueled many people’s imagination; sexuality leads to abandonment and release of trauma; for me that is ultra-erotic.”
— Linda Troeller (2022)

Self Power | Self Play highlights half a century of erotic portraiture by Linda Troeller. Now in her 70s, the photographer continues to produce dynamic, provocative portraits that assert the right to control the pleasures and potentials of her own body. Since 1973, when she first took a self-portrait, Troeller has strategically utilized her photography practice to embolden female intimacy, pleasure, masturbation, and orgasm, employing the camera as a tool for sensual empowerment.

Informed by apprenticeships with Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, and Annie Leibovitz in the 1970s and 80s, Troeller directs her lens to the natural world, mystical waters, and the bedroom, where she and her subjects relish in the power and play of the female-identifying body. The photographs on view demonstrate her early and historically-neglected commitment to explorations of uninhibited sexuality and defiance of social taboos. Throughout her decades-long career, she has featured intergenerational subjects, demonstrating that not only does pleasure endure over time, it also evolves.

In Troeller’s unapologetic images, there is little sense of voyeurism or subject performativity for a gaze, male or otherwise. With great care, Troeller documents herself and her subjects in spaces of intimacy, sexual awakening, and self-exploration. The selection of over sixty works in the exhibition spans six photographic series, realized between 1974 and 2022, displayed to highlight the dynamism of the images rather than in chronological order. Several portraits are accompanied by quotations from their sitters who were interviewed by Marion Schneider, a long-time collaborator on Troeller’s photo books including The Erotic Lives of Women (1998) and Orgasm: Interviews on Intimacy (2016). Many of Linda’s self-portraits are accompanied by her own stories, exemplifying a radical openness to self-reflection.

Troeller’s ongoing photographic practice confirms ecstasy as a human condition beyond the social constraints of shame and gender norms. These images evade culturally-constructed beauty and body ideals, conventions of age, expectations of “ladylike” behavior, and systemic patriarchal restrictions on women’s bodies more broadly. Self Power | Self Play insists and illustrates: we are all worthy of bodily liberation, autonomy, and pleasure.

Linda Troeller (b. 1949) has long been seduced by, and continues to, seduce her viewers through the camera. Since Georgia O’Keeffe encouraged her to take up photography as an intern at Ghost Ranch in 1970, Troeller has strategically utilized her practice to embolden those around her. First with a Rollei and later with a 35mm Leica double-stroke, Troeller used her cameras to subvert social norms and gender expectations. In 1974 she photographed a subject in a cut-off wedding gown standing above a sharp cactus, her dress ripped at the waist to expose her genitals above the threatening pricks. The Village Voice published this work, Bridal Rite (1974), as an embodiment of the artist’s early and continued, yet historically neglected, commitment to challenging taboos and exploring uninhibited sexuality. Later that same year, Troeller served as a model for Ansel Adams’s Nude in the Landscape workshop in Yosemite, CA. Inspired by photographers Eikoh Hosoe and Lucien Clergue who mentored her during the course, Troeller utilized this intimacy with the earth to further explore her sexual self.

Troeller grew up in Toms River, New Jersey. Being seen and captured by the camera was a regular occurrence in the artist’s youth; her peers and family members commented on her photogenic nature and she participated in numerous beauty pageants. Determined to strive for a freedom of sexual expression untethered to tradition or the voyeurism of others, Troeller began to push artistic boundaries. One of her undergraduate photo-journalism professors at West Virginia University (WVU) once chastised Troeller for capturing a nude male model running past Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in an experimental photographic series. Despite this critical feedback, Troeller was committed to her broadening practice. After graduating in 1971 from the Reed School of Journalism at WVU, she pursued a Master’s degree at the Newhouse School of Public Communications and later a Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA) in Photography at Syracuse University. Her MFA portfolio project at Syracuse titled, “Greenhouse and Beyond” encouraged her female subjects to embrace and revel in their nudity amidst nature in an effort to upend expectations of ladylike behavior. After she graduated with her MFA in 1975, Troeller continued to explore non-traditional activist photography.

In the 1980s, after a failed romantic relationship, Troeller searched for a sense of self and sensuousness in water. She traveled to Mexico, Morocco, Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan photographing herself and her subjects in states of undress, moving through bodies of water. In 1987, she served as a studio assistant for Annie Liebovitz, and in the 1990s, she published the first of several photographic monographs titled Healing Waters (Aperture and Marvel, 1998).

Two photo projects structured Troeller’s work in the 1990s: the TB-AIDS Diary and Erotic Lives of Women series. Featured in the New York Times in 1990, TB-AIDS Diary tells the tale of a TB patient in the 1930s, based on the artist’s mother’s experience with the disease, juxtaposed in polaroids and text related to the experience of an HIV-AIDS patient in the 1990s suffering from illness and social stigma. Troeller received a New Jersey Arts Grant and the Woman of Achievement Award from Douglass College in 1991 for the project. In 1994, Troeller moved into the Chelsea Hotel, living in the historical home of some of New York’s most well-known artists and creatives such as Tennessee Williams, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan until she moved out due to construction in 2013.

Troeller’s long interest in the sexual emancipation of women inspired her collaboration with Marion Schneider whom she met in 1994. For four years they traveled all over the world. Marion interviewed, and Linda photographed, 34 women about their erotic lives and intimate experiences. Published in 1998 by Scalo, The Erotic Lives of Women was called, “one of the most gutsy and imaginative erotic books of the decade,” by Susie Bright in the New York Times. An exhibition of the photographs from Erotic Lives opened at Fotohof Gallery, Salzburg, and traveled to Berlin and Weimar, Germany. Sixteen years later, the duo published Orgasm: Photographs & Interviews (Daylight Books, 2014), as an intergenerational, cross-cultural conversation between women, surveying the orgasmic sensation.

In the 2000s, Troeller photographed three fashion catalogs for the Apolda Museum in Germany and exhibited Apolda Fashion, 2005 at Centro Colombo Gallery, Medellin in 2006. She returned to Colombia to teach self-portraiture to impoverished women in 2010 for the University of Antioquia. Five years later, Troeller published Living in the Chelsea Hotel (Schiffer Publishing, 2015) featuring over seventy images the artist took while residing in the iconic hotel. In the last decade, Troeller held major exhibitions at Leica Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Kulturfabrik, Apolda, Germany; the Griffin Museum,Winchester, MA; iLon Art Gallery and Laurence Miller Gallery in New York, NY. She has lectured at the School of Visual Arts, New York University, Parsons School of Design, Yale University, Salzburg Summer Art Academy, New Orleans Photo Alliance, and at Ryerson University and served as a professor of photography at Stockton College, Indiana University, and Bournemouth College. Her work is in the collections of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University; Harvard University; Syracuse University; Bryn Mawr College; the University of Texas, Austin; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Norton Simon Museum of Art; the National Museum of Women in the Arts; and the Smithsonian Institution.

Since 1973, when she first took a self-portrait, Troeller has strategically utilized her photography practice to embolden female intimacy, pleasure, masturbation, and orgasm, employing the camera as a tool for sensual empowerment. Today, Linda Troeller continues to take erotic and empowering self-portraits as well as landscapes and portraits. She develops these photographs at her studio in Lakewood, NJ. where she lives with her husband, fellow photographer, and collaborator, Lothar Troeller.

Self Power | Self Play at the Museum of Sex, open from October 19, 2022 until January 9, 2023, is the artist’s first museum retrospective in New York City.


Emily Shoyer, Curator at Large
Emily Alesandrini, Guest Curator


Laura Metzler, Exhibitions and Curatorial Manager
Kayla Janaé Smith, Curatorial Project Assistant
Eve Arballo, Former Assistant Curator and Exhibitions Manager


Eunice Yunjeong Lee


Cletis Chatterton


Winston Forgenie Jr.
Edgar Samudio


Bernard Gann
Flores Painting
Jacob Reynolds
Sara Sciabbarrasi
Lauren Carly Shaw
Jewel Webb


Bryn Mawr College Special Collections
Linda and Lothar Troeller