Self Power | Self Play at the Museum of Sex 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.