Kelsey Osgood, former assistant for the ‘125th Anniversary of the Chelsea Hotel’ exhibition, curated by Linda Troeller, also helped catalogue her archive, and is a published author.


KO: I was shocked to learn that your summerhouse caught fire in the middle of Easter night of 2016. Can you tell me a bit about the aftermath?


LT: My first reaction was to save my computer with my recent work. After I saw that the house burned down to the floor. When I realized that it was raining, I made my first iPhone shots of piles of wet toxic remains of my photo life. I immediately asked my husband to get me a new camera, as mine burned. He met me, and after getting me some clothes, we saw that we had to get what was left to a storage unit. My cousin Laura, living nearby, who would surely help, was scheduled to leave for a flight but gathered useful clothes and dropped them off. This was so kind, since after each day trying to salvage remains from the ashes, the clothes were full of soot. We asked cleaners to wash, and they said, “Soot is poison and we can’t help you.” So we had enough clothes to toss after each day. My fire insurance provided a budget for a motel nearby for the summer. I was like a researcher, but instead looking for ancient finds, I was digging into my own life.  It kept me occupied the whole summer. Once the materials were in my storage space, I realized that was now my art studio. I had to dry out and blot with paper towels things I was hoping to save. We brought the undamaged patio glass table into my storage unit, where it served as my shooting tabletop.  Despite my best efforts, I lost all my journal books, all negatives, and letters that you and I had organized to go to my Syracuse University Archive.  My life changed within a few hours.


KO: I understand you lost all other possession too. Were you depressed?


LT: When I returned to our New York City studio apartment in the fall, everybody was talking about their vacations at the art openings; so I thought, where do I fit? PTSD set in. I felt safe in a small corner of my bed hugging my pillow. My Teddy Bear burned, the scented eye pad with embroidery from singer friend Pal Shazar was gone. The chenille bedspread we had already brought to our NYC apartment, ninety-five years old from my childhood, was also sheltering me on this bed from my losses.


KO: You were alone?


LT: My husband, Lothar, luckily brought his cameras and favorite clothes to our new NYC apartment just before fire. That night he returned to the city for his workday. He also had some luck that his room was the least attacked by fire, hoses and trampling mess.  He was very helpful and my assistant who had worked with me on the archive, Rachel Fucheck, quickly launched a GoFundMe campaign, which raised money from my photo friends and relatives to replace my melted hearing aids, so I could function in the world.


KO: What else led to getting back into the “world”?


LT: Kappa Kappa Gamma, my college sorority, had an emergency grant that I successfully applied for. And, then the Joan Mitchell Foundation backed the cost of printing 100 16x20 color prints I made from shots taken of destroyed, charred ring binders with still readable press clippings of my longtime “analogue life.” I set a date for myself to have that done, and mailed them to my archive at Syracuse University during late August. Paula Tagnarelli, Director of the Griffin Museum in the Boston area, wrote quickly to invite me to speak on the fire, and introduce my new book, Living In the Chelsea Hotel, to guests at their annual exhibition reception in late July. Those goals kept me in motion. Yet, some days I am still sensing loss, like the red rubies I got in the Czech Republic, or even my wedding and engagement rings, Dad’s war pins gone. Then I tell myself, you had these things for a long time. So many people tell me, “You have your life.” And I nod. 


KO: How did you find strength?


LT: I found a lot of solace in friends. Kat James, award-winning author of “The Truth About Beauty” sent me a loving statement. 

‘Linda Troeller’s photo memoir, literally charred, if not lost forever in flames, makes for a haunting journey that fittingly finds precious gems of humanity in the sooty rubble of the artists own rich, yet sometimes “ordinary” past, just as she celebrated the unexpectedly fascinating inner lives of so many unsung, often suffering subjects in her life’s photo works. The summaries of loss (and recoveries) of hope and resolve make for inspiration.’


Stuart Thorn, a retired CEO, who mused on the aftermath of his wife's sudden passing sent a message on loss.  His wife died in his arms after a tragic automobile accident and two weeks in a subsequent coma. He wrote, “Loss is an impenetrable window separating you from what could have been, through which you watch your vanishing dreams dance on without you. You hurt. You cry. But, inevitably, one day, you find yourself smiling again.  And you dream again as you begin to reconcile your unrequited longing with your renewed purpose. That is when the healing has begun.”


Ko: What will you do now?


LT: I found that some of my archival boxes that I put in storage, though burned on top, actually had unscathed prints below a few ruined ones. They represent enough photographs for a possible small vintage retrospective. I also plan to talk about my new book project “Up in Flames.”




Juliana Irene Smith, former student in Linda’s course at “Healing Images” Parsons, NY, assistant and active conceptual artist.


JS: One of my favorite images is of you and your father.  Can you tell me about him?


LT: My father, Raymond, was one of my most important influences. He was a disabled World War II veteran, who raised me at home while my mother went to work. He moved us to a quiet property at the New Jersey shore.  We spent a lot of time in nature. He taught me how to write haikus and together we would sit and write poems while staring at the Manasquan River or the ocean.


JS: Sounds nice.


LT: It was. There was legend around my house growing up that my father had influenced President Kennedy’s quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”  In 1958, when JFK was a senator, my father sent him some poems he had written, and had received personal letters of appreciation from JFK.  He felt his last two lines in the poem, “Inertia”––“For the more you give your country great, its fruits for you, and it will retaliate”––had spurred on those famous lines. He was a very aware man and in fact in the 1940s he predicted drive-thru banks. Just before he died in 1985, sitting at the kitchen table, his frail hand placed tiny ink dots on a piece of scrap paper.  He told me that my photography would be changing forever. He said that bits of information would record my images on a tiny chip.  His awareness of the future helped me to hone my own intuition and do the research to choose prescient material.


JS: What about your mother? She was a working woman? Did she influence you?


LT: Because of my father’s war injuries, and then a heart attack, they decided she would go to work.  She got a civil service position in the treasurer’s office in county government but she witnessed misappropriations among officials. She tried to expose it but had no real power to uncover it. This led to ostracism from other employees. She saw a therapist who told her to hold onto her position, which provided the main income for our household.  She was stuck there. It was frustrating to watch and in high school, I was more determined than ever to be a lawyer to defend justice.  Eventually I found photography and left that dream behind.


JS: Do you regret it? Did your mother want you to be a lawyer?


LT: She hoped I would have enjoyed the life of wife and mother but I wanted to travel the world and take photographs. She didn’t understand my direction, but was nevertheless supportive.  Actually it was not until she was retired and watching channel 13 that she saw a special on Ansel Adams. She was mesmerized. She was so proud that I had been an assistant at his workshops. From then on she promoted my photographic projects.


JS: Choosing a career in art has never been a favorite for parents. It is not the easiest life and they know that. But mothers come around eventually…


LT: Yes, it’s true and as clichéd as it sounds, they are always there for you. One summer I was visiting my parents and started dating an older man.  I decided to break it off, as a future together seemed impossible. I told him my feelings at a local bar, but he was persuasive and requested one last night in a motel. I went along, because I had cared for him, but when we got inside, he slammed and locked the door. He pulled out a pistol, distraught with my decision to end the relationship and held me at gunpoint.


My mother was waiting up for me and was worried.  She phoned all over the region until she found a clerk who recognized me and put her call through to our room. He answered the phone and my mother’s desperate intuition translated into fear in him. He let me go.


JS: Did you ever photograph her?


LT: In the 90’s, I took a photograph of her in a Jacuzzi relaxing after having had plastic surgery for skin cancer. Vivienne Eder chose it for her book, Mothers and Daughters. The launch was in NYC and all the photographers and mothers were invited.  Not very many of the other photographers’ mothers showed up. But my mom, regardless that she was not in top form, showed up to the party with her nurse and the nurse’s husband, a limo driver.  She had a glow about her and attracted people to her regardless of status. I admire her ease with the situations.  


 JS: How did you know you wanted to be a photographer?


LT: The first actual “art” photograph I saw was from Alfred Stieglitz Equivalents, which was on the wall at Georgia O’Keefe’s ranch.  I was a student in a drama program at Ghost Ranch Conference Center, where she also had a house. I was twenty and I was attending the college student luncheon she was hosting. Georgia was very kind to me since I pointed to her husband’s image[KO3]. She had been hosting the lunches for the Ghost Ranch drama program for some years. It was extremely prescient for me as I had lost my part in a play due to a sore throat and the director had just given me his 2 ¼ Rollei to take pictures of the cast. I learned how Georgia created an equivalent [KO4]for what she felt about what she was painting – not to copy. After that luncheon she suggested I was down her well-worn path and I should see what the spirits told me. Soon my roommate became her night assistant, as Georgia was facing blindness. Georgia’s paintings brought me closer to the rawness of the mesas and space of the desert. That encounter transfixed me and I knew when I went back home after the summer program I would enroll in photography. I had to switch my whole major to journalism. At the time there was only one photography class in the school, and you had to be in the journalism department to take it.  Now the schools are churning out photography students.


JS: I completely agree.  And it has happened so fast.  I am intrigued by the image with scratching. I am sure like most students you did some experimental work, but was documentary your passion?


LT: The image with the scratching came later on.  It was all a process. I was learning about myself and at the same time exploring this relatively new medium, which was full of possibilities. I was in school during women’s lib and like most young people I was discovering my identity, which led to taking portraits of women. I wanted to know who I was and what it meant to be a woman.  So I experimented photographing women with objects and outfits in greenhouses, places of fecundity and protection. The greenhouse had a warm and bubble-like quality that felt safe and removed from the world that was often awkward to me.


JS: I like that analogy about the greenhouse.  What did you have your models do?


LT: I would play dress up, like what most girls do.  But I would dress them as nun: one had a sword, another was in a torn wedding dress. I would write every detail about the photo shoots in a diary.


JS: What I find interesting is that I think every young woman artist / photographer does play dress up.  It is part of the process.  Funny that one of the most famous woman photographers got so famous by doing something so classic.


LT: Well, I guess the art world had to acknowledge a few women doing it. The Kinsey Institute purchased my images and I also had a large image in the Village Voice. But at this point it was all a process of discovery: the medium, sexuality, adventure, freedom and myself.


JS: And so this led naturally to self-portraits and going from black and white to color?


LT: Yes, for me color photography made everything real. I felt like digging into reality.


JS: I love the Ansel Adams image of Half Dome in your room.  I hiked to the bottom of it when I was a young girl with my mom. What was he like?


LT: Most people can only imagine Ansel invested in landscape issues and technical applications of photography. This was not the case. He had many passions in photography, but people came to expect his pristine landscapes and he made them.

One evening I was setting up the lecture hall for his talk and he came in early. It was in the beginning of a workshop series and he was doing a portfolio review. I of course had my work with me. The whole point of working there was to be able to attend the courses for free. We started talking and he asked me what kind of photography I was doing. I showed him my portraits of women in greenhouses and an experimental magazine from my MFA at Syracuse University. He was intrigued and encouraging. Later we met again and he spent a long time studying my projects. At one cocktail party, he came over to me and told me that he wished he had had more time to work with varied subjects. Perhaps he was flirting, but he also took the time to show me his prints and darkroom.  I felt like we were friends.


JS: Did he inspire you to teach?


LT: Yes, although now it is harder and harder to find teaching positions as a photographer and artist.  Earlier if you had an MFA you had a decent chance at teaching at a university or an art school. It was almost part of the plan: MFA, teach, make art and show in galleries.


JS: Now, it is starting to become a trend to get a PhD in Fine Arts if you want to teach at that level, at least the reputable schools.  I too would like to teach, but I find the schools become a club for friends and that is the practically the only way to get in. I like that you were adamant about promoting other women photographers in your courses.


LT: When I taught the first course on “Women in Photography” in 1973 at Syracuse University, I got a lot of material from writing to photographers and asking for slides of their work. The Eastman House was only an hour a way, so I would go there and look for material.  They had a great library and vintage prints by photographs. I would spend hours with gloves on going through images. My professor in my photojournalism class at Newhouse School of Public Communications spoke of only two women photographers in his History of Photography course: Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke White. Great women of course, but I wanted more than just two. Through the images that I saw at the Eastman House, I simply decided to contact these women directly and ask for slides of their work for my class. I wrote letters to Barbara Crane Ruth Bernhard, Marie Cosindas and several other contemporary photographers. Anne Tucker’s book The Women’s Eye was not available yet. Recently I saw ICP coverage pointed out that the artists in a recent show had more women than me.[KO5]


JS: Yes, it is great. It is hard to look at your life’s work and not discuss feminism. You are a woman; do you consider yourself a feminist artist?


LT: I like that I am a woman and am glad to be considered a woman artist, but I also like men. I am interested in the feminine. I have explored the “feminist” circle.  I think that my work is acknowledged as progressive. I was never part of that scene, you know[KO6]? I mean I was the high school prom queen.


JS: You are a “womanist,” as Alice Walker would say.  


LT: I like that term. Susie Bright did a review on my show and it was a positive one, but somehow there are certain people’s circles.


JS: I met Susie at a garage sale in front of her house in Santa Cruz. I was only nineteen and had just seen Celluloid Closet, and began reading the Herotica Books. I loved her, but for me the photography was too hard.  Something like wanting to be Mapplethorpe for dykes, and I get it but I also think, ok, do it, make it and move forward. It is like history, but each person’s focus is relevant too.


LT: I am also wanting to push forward, take the next step. I mean, of course I could have spent my whole life making beautiful healing waters and spa images, but as a human, I needed more from the work and myself.


JS: What about some of the things you learned from your teachers, or mentors?


LT: I was also a model at the Ansel Adams Workshop, for “Nude in the Landscape,” taught by Eikoh Hosoe, Jack Welpott, and Lucien Clergue. It was amazing to be their model. I saw how Eikoh dealt with both the students and his models and I admired how he would guide us into creative play.  It was thoughtful and we all felt at ease. Making your models, subjects and students feel comfortable enables dialogue. I am not interested in awkward images. Lucien’s style was more fluid, and he showed me to care for the model’s well being, providing a warm sweater and breaks.


Another time when I assisted Ralph Gibson in a bookmaking workshop, he took my Leica, which had a long cord that dangled down to my hip, and asked if he could improve it.  He returned with a short leather strap position now on my chest level. He showed me how to use the camera more quickly up to my eye to make photographs. One of the best tips ever.


JS:  You just said you are “not interested in awkward images.” Your images are a bit hard to define at times. Would you consider your projects contributing mostly to the documentary genre?


LT: Yes.  However, documentary does not mean without perspective. I’ve referred to all my practice as art documentary. I investigate subjects and themes, but it’s not a photo-essay with a beginning, middle and end. My photography works directly and inseparably with changes whether it is an erotic image, or an image reflecting on identity or even memory. These concepts are associated with changes, so my approach provides one of many interpretations. I call on a private, subjective sensation to gather personal associations in an atmospheric and emotional style around a topic.  When the viewer sees the work, it is my hope that its essence links to a larger, cultural memory.


JS: This then would bring me to ask about the TB-AIDS DIARY.  This project definitely deals with a larger cultural memory. Can you discuss this?


LT: My TB-AIDS DIARY has been a brand in visual communication of the pandemic for twenty-five years. My political experience in Mexico guided me to view this work as “art as information,” which opened me to both museum shows and publication in the general news.


The media [KO7]chose from my selection  -- the photo collage of the man with AIDS and his hairdresser mother related how AIDS can stigmatize families. The image of a woman with the words “infected with” spoke to the phase when it spread to the female population. Today editors publish the image of the child at the old fashioned TB X-ray machine in Africa. TB is an illness of AIDS immune suppression but it is also once again a major illness as well.


When I exhibited my TB-AIDS DIARY at the Havana Biennial, Cubans from the radio station were so moved that they wanted me to photograph an AIDS isolation camp where people were being hidden. We hoped I could create a visual diary about it to bring their plight to readers in America. Our attempts were foiled but my work raised a lot of awareness, recognized by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He attended my show while visiting Castro and congratulated me on the empathy and power the images were instilling in his companions.


In Finland, a writer from the Helsinki’s Sanomat newspaper heard my talk and saw the exhibition. He wrote a ¾ page front-page story with large color images. The article attracted tremendous attention and led to a dialogue with the government that stopped the stigmatic stamping of “HIV” in infected people’s passports.


JS: But you chose to combine TB and AIDS, which not everyone associates together. You did this because of your mother.


LT:  One day I was in our attic and I found a box filled with my mother’s diary from when she was twenty and had TB.  She was sent to Saranac Sanitarium in upstate New York. While she was there she had a camera and in her scrapbook there were sepia images of the nurses and doctors. The porch was a perfect backdrop. I was inspired by her snapshots and by her handwriting. She was simple and honest yet to the outside world she was completely stigmatized.


I wanted to combine my mom’s diary and snapshots into a presentation and that mix worked in photo-collage format. I was trying to transcend demographics and statistics by focusing on the painful stigma and suffering.


It won a Photo Metro publication prize and after, an AIDS activist asked me if I could drive the “stigma” concept home further with a diary of someone with AIDS. I created a storyline for a young man who died of AIDS from this mother’s letter and journals with a similar visual layout to the TB part.  I had gallery exhibitions and the art became a photo-essay in the Sunday Magazine of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  T


JS: I grew up in San Francisco, right above the Castro in Noe Valley.  When I was six and in first grade, my kindergarten teacher, a nun, died of AIDS. She had had a blood transfusion.  It was crazy, the city changed. I watched the NAMES quilt grow and grow. (Pause)


Did the TB- AIDS Diary get you interested in healing?


LT: Actually I was already shooting the Healing Waters book and searching my own healing in the waters of hot springs and spas. I talked to a number of women bathing there and learned how some were using the time to recover from abuse and break-ups. They told me that they discovered that they were recuperating in the water – that it helped to bring their body feeling back. The warm waters and rest opened up their sexuality while the contact with nature provided awe of the spirit. I found myself considering how to photograph these moods.


JS: Why was it important to photograph it? Are you able to experience something without photographing?


LT: I always had my camera around my neck. I remember when I was twenty-seven and a new professor at Stockton College of New Jersey I was invited to a party by Joel Sternfeld, who I taught with. He also joked with me about being able to just be at a party without having the camera tied to me. I guess it is like another arm. It is like constantly spontaneously having a diary with you. And it is about always deciding which moments to keep and which to throw away.


One time I was photographing in Spa, Belgium when Chernobyl occurred. I sat with the spa managers as they worried about the winds and possible contamination. The infrared lighting transfixed me, the bubbling surfaces, soaking pools and the beautiful natural environments.  With a focus on diffused lighting I started to work with high-speed film and movement to express the world I was seeing.


JS: Are you able to discuss your own healing? What were you healing from?


LT: I have pushed my body physical and stress limits. It takes a lot out of you when you have a drive to succeed but also run into obstacles. There is tremendous competition in this field.  The first time I went to Mexico and to a bath was because my heart was broken. I was only twenty-three and engaged to a beautiful Jewish man.  I was going to convert because his family was very strict. They were a very influential and also associated with Israel. But I couldn’t do it. I was raised Christian and even though I was a bit ambiguous about religion I could not “extract Christ” from my life. It was too much.


JS: That is a lot to ask and you were young.


LT: Yeah, and somewhere in my stomach I knew I would be exploring new paths.  I had read books about Tina Moddotti and Edward Weston traveling south to Mexico.  But I, like most people, have had lots of times where I needed water or to be healed.

When I visited the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington in Mexico City, she told me how hot springs have the power to heal sadness. So I soaked in mineral pools with local Indians. I learned how to weave water into my heart and it unburdened my unhappiness.


JS: Dis you marry?


LT: My first husband had a law degree, but after seeing my life as an artist he too wanted to be part of a creative field.


JS: Ah, the irony, you married the lawyer, the other side of you…


LT: I guess I never thought about it that way! He tried working for a PBS station but was not able to break into producing. There was jealousy over how our time was spent.  It ended in a terrible divorce. I soon after went to the Maine Photography Workshops, where I met Allan Coleman. He had devoted his writing to photography and was very supportive.  He was with me when I was the guest artist at Omega Workshops, showing my TB-AIDS Diary, in their tiny café. He saw how that body of work escalated to major exhibitions and publications world-wide. I was progressing yet still fragile. Then, I had a severe break of my wrist in several places, which meant I couldn’t carry the equipment, and use. And, when Allan was driving my car to a Maine Photography Workshop, he hit the divide in a rainstorm, and I suffered a painful neck injury.  Emotional hurts and physical setbacks led me back to waters. Every time I feel like I am sinking I go to water to float.


It was really on this second journey that I decided to photograph mineral spas with more intensity in Europe. I benefited as well while experimenting and exploring the locations with my camera.  Sometimes I would be told there were no cameras allowed in the baths, so I had a technique of putting it in a plastic bag and working undercover!


JS: So you used your healing to work for you?


LT: The more time I spent photographing at spas and hot springs, the more I got to know the people, curists, interested in water. People of all races and cultural backgrounds were reforming and reclaiming their bodies with water. Some sufferers drink mineral water to deconstruct toxins that result in a thermal crisis. In a steam bath there is immediate awareness of moisture on the skin that stimulates consciousness. Ancient users of water – pagan cults, Greeks, Romans –– left an influence in the atmosphere and architecture providing a mood for nudity, exhibitionism, fasting, purging, touching, being touched, and confession. I had learned in 1976 from the Indians in Ixtapan mineral pools to have reverence for the water. They would cup the water bubbling up from a geyser and gently place it on their heart, thanking the spirits for bringing them blessings. My goal for these photographs was to offer viewers sensation and transport them to a ‘source’ or feeling.


JS: For me, it is the salt water. I loved Switzerland, but there is nothing better than diving in the Pacific Ocean. It clears everything. What do you think you accomplished with the Healing Waters [KO8]photographs?


LT: The photographs eliminate a sense of time, while creating an uneasy difference between the artificial, the organic, the harm and the beauty. My images encourage the viewer to explore the isolated unknown in nature and be transported toward natural mysteries. The images orchestrate a paradigm for absorbing nature and healing into our consciousness.  These transformative images have the power to bring on well being or its desire, but is predicated upon reconnecting the viewer to “oneness” or “a source.”  


The exhibition at Saba Gallery in NYC was so amazing in 1999. After the opening everyone told me how relaxed they felt or how they missed nature. In the city it is easy to forget how important the elements are for our health.


JS: Can you compare this to someone that inspires you?


LT: International photographer Sebastian Salgado makes photographs of the plight of the desperately ill in refugee camps.  Salgado’s black and white photos are mystical, encoded by atmosphere and light yet educate the public on disability and environmental toxins.  The pictures show doctors, injuries, and a scarred region.  Such photographs empowered in an art style have the ability to “dream forward” the “subject” for the viewers and transport them to a response or to a goal.

JS: The difference is your work is more personal than educational. (Although I do believe your images create awareness.)  I am a bit surprised at the reference.


LT: His work is perhaps considered more documentary but it is his emotional point of view and style that captures my interest.  I like how he interprets.


JS: This I can agree with. I see his work and I get very sad. In German, this is called “Weltschmerz” – pain with the world. I find both Healing Waters and The Erotic Lives of Women feminine, but somehow I think with Erotic you are pushing at something strong[KO9]... Tell me how this project began.


LT: I was forty and going through an erotically aware period. I had a younger French lover. I wanted to be wanted and was wearing clothes that were sexy. I would wear stockings and high heels, leather minis, but also classy sexy. I had come out of the bad marriage and was rediscovering my sexual being. It was nice and it made me curious. I began observing other women’s presentation of themselves. On a train I saw an older woman in her seventies strutting through the corridor in spike heels, bright blue eye make-up and a long fur. She projected an openness that made me think “hot woman.” I continued to explore how I wanted to express that sensation in pictures. The sensation of pow––sexy. The image of this woman is perhaps unexpectedly sexy, not traditionally so.


JS: How did you find women willing to be part of the photographed and tell their stories?


LT: It really came from a network of friends and friends of friends. Wherever I traveled, I would tell people about the project and see if they knew people willing to be subjects. Or rather discuss and be photographed. My first models were from Paris. I was at my opening at Galerie Suzel Berna and talking to these sensuous older Parisian women about my project. They were the first to sign up.


JS: Parisian women have something innately sexy.


LT: Yes, but anytime and anywhere women sit together, time and time again, strong women tell stories of abuse, being beaten down from break-ups, divorces and disappointments. I see beauty and they would often feel they were not as erotic as they wanted to be. So I felt intrigued to push further.


I met Val, in her fifties, who told me no amount of exercise got rid of her small existing tummy, so she took action and switched to wearing black camisoles that covered it and always wore black stockings that made her legs more firm and available.


JS: But shouldn’t sexiness come from within? Not from clothing?


LT: Yes and no. Everyone needs self-confidence and sometimes you have to “fake it till you make it.” Clothes and fantasy help. I know you are a huge fan of Vogue.


JS: All right, you caught me.


LT: I began to see that a book project could educate women and men in how women establish and re-establish their sexuality. The photographs could be a recharge for the sitter and viewer as well. There is a process for women at any age to “evolve” and feel in touch with their erotic sides. One woman developed a system of touching herself to orgasm and then blessing herself with that vibrant energy. She would imagine the energy spreading as white light onto her arms and legs. She created a ritual from her orgasm to potentially enhance her aura and energy.


Even my seventy-year-old mother saw how to increase orgasm on a TV talk show and ordered the vibrator for stimulation. She used it to satisfy and uplift her mood even after she lived in a nursing home. Some people refer to them as “21st century toys with a spirit.”


JS: I remember my first trip out of the USA, when I was nineteen. I went to Nepal and I was told not to bring any tampons with applicators or anything controversial. I left a suitcase at my mother’s house.  I was not able to call home often but one day I called and she said, “Well, your suitcase was shaking, and I found your toy.” I was shocked and embarrassed. She was cool and said, “I always prefer the colored ones to the natural skin colors. Mine is green.” I swear I was struck silent for days.


LT: The first time facing a parent’s sexuality can be uncanny. I was glad to be able to work on the book project with Marion Schneider, a German writer. She would interview the women I had contacted. She also encouraged me to photograph women of all ages, not just the older ones I had been selecting. I agreed.


JS: So how does your process begin?


LT: I look for atmosphere, and try and get a “sense” of what each woman is feeling. It is collaboration as for that short time I am in tune with what is deep from their psyche. Sometimes, in the photographic moment, I have become aroused and even cried because of the closeness of the situation.  I could not have anticipated the profound experience women have had being photographed.


JS: I Iike that you call it collaboration. I think some photographers want too much control. Sometimes you also have to let it happen. Do you spend a lot of time with these women? A few hours? A day?


LT: It was usually a half a day at their homes or if they felt more comfortable somewhere neutral we would get a hotel room.


JS: You and Marion chose to be in the book as well. Why? Was it about exhibitionism?


LT: No, although, neither of us are afraid of exhibitionism. We wanted to show our solidarity with women who were taking time to talk about a sexual subject. For some women it was easier than for others. We also wanted to learn more about our own erotic tendencies.  I grew up taking care of my parents. I would offer people to enter my personal space as part of friendliness, but through the project, I discovered how my relationships took liberties because I had not learned to establish ‘boundaries.’

The erotic impulse connects with a desire to go deep into bodily sensation, and you can interpret this connection as love when it is sometimes only someone taking liberties or simply enjoying creative erotic interplay. I learned how each women needs to confront for herself, and discover what is her healthy sexually in terms of religion and health. Some sex counselors say that everything that doesn’t please is unhealthy.  I encourage women to learn about boundaries and find a place of sexual and sensual exploration that supports their life direction.


JS: What I find most interesting about the Erotic Lives of Women book is that the women are from all different backgrounds, and not just nationalities but religious, like the Muslim women in Morocco and the Jewish Israelis, yet in the introduction, Marion does not touch––excuse the pun––on this point. Was it important to have a wide representation?


LT: Yes, we traveled to Morocco for that very purpose, but the Israeli women I met in NYC. Morocco was awkward at times, because we had a male translator and it was and it is still quite taboo to discuss sexuality.  One of the most affluent women we met would not be photographed, but spoke openly.  


JS: I must say that I feel like I wish the Muslim women were seen as even more modern like the Israeli.  If you go to Beirut, the young women dress the same as New York, and they are Muslim.  But I know the book was published in 1998, and times change fast.


LT: I understand your position, but we, too, were trying to do what you are talking about, to tell the world that these women are human and sexual.  Religion does not take away human nature.


JS: I agree.  How did you start shooting your next project, Orgasm[KO10]?

LT: Marion Schneider and I wanted to do a project that focused purely on a women’s experience of orgasm.  We have photographed five women so far and are interested in meeting others. This topic is very intimate and euphoric so we are gaining new insights to share with our viewers.


JS: Sex is completely over saturated in the media, but I still know a lot of women who have trouble discussing their orgasm or masturbation. What types of questions does Marion ask?


LT: We are fairly direct, granted the women are expecting us to ask questions. The questions are fairly basic, like:  What is your definition of orgasm? What was your first orgasm? Then we ask them to show it to the camera. What was your strongest orgasm? Then we ask them to show it to the camera. Do you have any fantasies that influence your orgasm? Can you show it to the camera?


JS: Ah, so you see how far you can push the boundaries?


LT: I am not trying to push at something that does not already exist. I want an honest portrayal in the photos. Voyeur is not the right term, rather it is as if the women are looking at themselves and I am the interpreter. It is about saying and showing and taking it out of the head.


For example, I began by interviewing and photographing Marion. I asked her one of our questions, “Can you remember your fist orgasm and show it to the camera?”

Marion explained, “I was fourteen and not able to talk about sex to anyone. I discovered books in my parents’ wardrobe of how women could create orgasms. I decided to use the blunt end of a pencil––it was the only pointed instrument I was allowed to use in school. I did the research with my body as the object. I was just in bed with a blanket over me and after a while I relaxed and allowed myself to get more into the feeling and eventually brought about my first orgasm.”


The photograph I took is of her in bed with a pencil, somewhat hiding under the sheet in her discovery process.


JS: I would like to know how you and Marion met? How long have you collaborated?


LT: Marion was looking for a photographer to create images of Liquid Sound, [KO11]a new pool experience with light and underwater music. The German photographers she had hired used flash and made it very cold and sterile. She had heard about my Healing Waters photographs from the marketing manager of Terme de Saturnia, in Italy. I had returned there to shoot a project for them and a magazine.spread for my Italian editorial agency, Grazia Neri. Marion and her husband, Klaus arrived to meet me and looked at my portfolio.  They offered to purchase thirty of my photographs for the walls of their clinic and hire me to come and interpret Liquid Sound.  I spent about six weeks there, during which I became friends with Marion as well as produced their brand image of a person floating in lights in the water, which is still used today in their advertising.  They are collectors and maintain a program of art, music and performance at their spas.


JS: I like that spas are accessible and affordable in Europe. Linda, earlier, you mentioned the[KO12] “tremendous competition in this field.” I would like to discuss this.  When did you first notice it?


LT: Well, in the early nineties, at portfolio reviews, curators and editors arrived with projects to offer and actively would support a photographer's idea on the spot. By 2000 sessions, became more like an interview/feedback for many with no offers.  Today the level of visual material is staggering.


JS: Yes, and the amount of photographers is exponentially expanding rapidly. In Berlin I felt like every third person I came in contact with was a photographer.


LT: It's been interesting to follow your path to Berlin and Europe for your MFA. I remember when you first wanted to go abroad.


JS: I was desperate to get out of New York. New York is great to be a student, but hard to live without a trust fund. It is hard to pay the rent and fulfill a dream.


LT: Was it easier in Europe?


JS: Not in Berlin, no. Too many artists, and too little work. My close friends that were really working hard were from Berlin.  For me it didn’t work. I was happy to move to Switzerland to do my MFA.


LT: In Europe, you have a lot more support as an artist.


JS: Yes, the grants are great and I find the attitude better. That said, Berlin was not easy. It is full of young, struggling artists.  I am a big fan of Switzerland. You are Swiss?


LT: Yes, and I have loved going there to photograph the mineral spas.


JS: Now you are making me homesick. A day at the spa and cheese fondue is my heaven!  But enough about me.  Now let’s talk about my favorite topic: the Chelsea Hotel. I remember when you first invited me here. I was completely in awe. I never wanted to leave. To me it was the ultimate in cool.


LT: Why?


JS: It had a sense of people not giving a damn and just living. Now I find it more of a reality that I am a bit afraid of. You gave in completely to the artist life. Tell me how you got here?


LT: I’d been working as a photographer while living part time with my French boyfriend in Saint Paul de Vence and part time in New York.  When he got involved with a younger woman, we broke the relationship. I was devastated. My New York loft rent skyrocketed and I was lonely. I had the van unload my furniture at the 8th Avenue[KO13] Salvation Army, then headed north, where I moved[KO14] into a small writer’s room at the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd.


I needed a nest.


JS: You have stayed.


LT: I set up a shrine with a healing bottle of sacred water I had brought back from Knock, Ireland as I had been working there on the healing waters project. I hoped its spell would help me see more clearly into people’s motives since I missed danger brewing in my love life.  Herbert Hunke, the surrealist poet living across the hall on our eight floor peeked in, “You look like you’re a rich divorcée? It would be nice to have some well being on this floor.” He got that impression since he saw me in a Chanel suit I had from Europe -- so he knocked each week for the seven-dollar cab fare to the methadone clinic. When he returned he read me poetry while spraying another layer of silver gloss on his phone or walked me to the only diner to eat at in the neighborhood.[KO15]


I moved to the hotel to make art and recover like Arthur Miller had, writing furiously good material after Marilyn. Everyone knew art and music and the famous had left a legend. I started getting high breathing in painter’s successes––Johns, Schnabel, River––and hearing stories like Christo removing his bathroom doorknob and replacing it with one from the hardware store for his “street front” piece now in the Hirshhorn Museum.


JS: Did you want to be one of the boys?


LT: I wanted to be recognized like them, but not be a man. What I didn’t count on is the loss of not having children. A man has all the time in the world.


JS: This has been a fear of mine.  What if I miss out on that?


LT:, I am constantly connecting and never giving up on the relationships in my life, because there are times I miss that bond.


It was because I am able to connect with a variety of people that I was able to do the Hotel book. Residents taught me how to smile in the elevator. I tried and it led Alexander McQueen inviting me to his fashion show and looking at my photographs. Ethan Hawke visited my third floor room to consider it for a scene in his film, Chelsea Walls, which led to photographing him.  Painters Michelle Zalopany and George Chemche invited me for a drink to their uniquely situated studios.  Abel Ferrera filmed a segment of Chelsea on the Rocks in my room with Grace Jones.


It’s an international meeting place where artists learn by meeting each other. There is always something going on: a Russian curator’s dialogue; a Goth party; Nina Hagen acting in a film shoot by Milos Forman; a poetry reading in a room; a male angel with tiara sitting in the lobby everyday.  These are intense events that do not happen in other buildings.


JS: I love Nina. I repeat, I love Nina.  Did you also find time for quiet? Is your nest... people?


LT: Yes and no.  When my mother died, I found solace in in the silent, misty dimness at the south windows. Reading, crawled up by the fire escape, I discovered the tranquility in this place. Stanley Bard, the former Managing Director, said it’s the thick walls that provide privacy. Loretta, the hotel housekeeper, vacuumed and put my clothes on hangers for weeks waiting for the right day to offer a maternal hug that brought tears and release. The management provided a kind of family, training staff how and when to respond with sincere humanness.


As I was coming out of the sadness of my mom’s death, I was drawn to sit in the art-strewn lobby to distract myself, trying to connect with the outside world again. There is a club atmosphere that Stanley evolved by “marshalling the vibe and the balance,” as Steve Lewis, a nightclub entrepreneur, described. The lobby brought me back into communication with artists such as Robert Lambert, a painter who says we lived in a “dysfunctional art colony – we are strangers in art together.”


I find that when an artist arrives with a fresh dream there, I feel renewed.


JS: Will you always live there? Have you considered leaving?


LT: I have become accustomed to ease of hotel living and have no plan on moving.

I am a part of the hotel and when my exhibition opened with my book about the hotel… I was having one of the worst times of my life.


JS: I remember.  It was right after that Lothar, your husband, had his accident.


LT: He was in a motorcycle accident a week later.  He was unconscious for a month with sixteen broken bones and in rehab for six months. My life was turned upside down as I was traveling each day out to the hospital in Newark, sitting at his bedside, praying for his eyes to open.  When I got back to the hotel there was often something going on. At this time, was the filming of Chelsea on the Rocks. I had been picked as an extra some weeks before and agreed the shoot could be in my room.  They were reenacting Janice Joplin’s stay in the hotel. I remember meeting Grace Jones in make-up and thinking the shoot was running late––how would I sleep and get back to then Newark hospital in the morning? The producers got me another hotel room and Grace asked me to buy and sign one of my books for her. When my husband eventually returned from the hospital, there was a group of hotel friends waiting in the lobby to greet him.  The hotel staff even built a ramp so he could be wheeled to the hall bath while he recovered.


JS: You have so many stories, so many images, so many adventures. Thank you for your time and thank you for your images.





KMC, award winning fashion and lifestyle photographer


KMC: I first noticed you because of your leather pants; I went up to introduce myself since you were a guest speaker at the University of the Arts, where I was studying in my last year in their photo program. Because I am mainly photographing fashion, your style lured me in.  We exchanged emails and I visited you at the Chelsea Hotel.  There was so much about photography's history I was dying to know. Lets start with the Chelsea. While living in the hotel you were surrounded with a variety of talents, such as fashion designer Alexander McQueen. What was it like to be around budding artists and be able to know them before they had their highest success?  


LT: Alexander McQueen invited me to his first American fashion show in a synagogue on Norfolk Street in the lower east side. It was snowy night, in April 1996, and with my name at the door I got in. I heard that Vogue editor Anna Wintour was caught in the line and eventually was recognized. I was huddled in the very last row of the official fashion shooters. As models made their way toward the stage, I was not prepared for the unpredictable magic of the clothes. There was an emotional power and raw energy. Fragility, strength, fluidity, brashness enriched my eyes. He wanted his clothes to make women stronger, and I saw that in the women who wore his designs. I was not in position for shots so I let just let the aura refine me. His use of part-nudity, bloody colors of war and the pale lace of peace inspired me. Around that time I got to know photographers who photographed his collections, including David LaChapelle who made the well known art print “Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow Burning Down the House,” and Mary Ellen Mark, who made black and white photographs of his collection for Detour Magazine. I met Larry Fink, a photography professor at Bard, in that mob of photographers; he was shooting for an assignment and we have been friends since then. I’ve followed Alexander’s rise from producing elegant, expensive clothes for Givenchy to his recent, unique and haunting designs for his own stores. I often wander to the Meatpacking district to see what new fashion he has in his 14th Street storefront. 


KMC:  You’ve seen everything go down in the Chelsea. I want to hear dirty details, was happening in the room next door, the club down the street, and then in the elevator late at night.


LT: I had made a new girlfriend at the Chelsea Hotel who called me at midnight to meet a few doors down at the S&M supper club, La Maison de Sade. At the bar, a waitress in a latex corset slapped my hand with a black cat-in-nine tail and told me to “beg, beg” for a drink order. My friend arrived and we watched the entrance action where “slaves” were handcuffed to a wood rack blindfolded, paddled and humiliated. A crowd of writers and directors in the film scene nestled in the back bar. It flourished until 2001, mostly surviving on wealthy couples from New Jersey who wanted a taste of the wild side.


From there we headed to Serena’s, the nightclub in the basement of the Chelsea Hotel. The doorman knew us, and we were escorted downstairs to the low, plush velvet couches, pillows, and Moroccan motif. This night my friend wanted to hang in the back room, where I’d never been. A stream of men and women nudged in and out of the ladies room. My friend took my hand. ”Let’s go.” Inside, the bath attendant was all smiles as she put a line of coke for us and my friend dropped a bill in the Kleenex box on the counter next to cheap scented perfume and bubble gum.

Then writers arrived and we headed to a tiny room back at the Chelsea Hotel seeing one double-deck [KO16]twin bed covered on the sides with blankets.  We slipped into the lair, like entering a teepee. A pasty-faced man I’d never seen gave them what drugs they wanted. It was said he never went out in the light of day. We then headed to a party in a front room with a scene of exotic drag queens, musicians and a fantastic spread and drinks. Apparently cops busted Cheng, the owner of the S&M restaurant who threw the party. I had gone back to my room just in time.


KMC: How did you artistically and creatively change when you moved in to the hotel, being surrounded by so many different personalities and artists?  


LT: I had a body of work ready to exhibit and my move to the hotel had a purpose. So the artists in the hotel were a wonderful addition but I wasn’t dependent on the interaction. I remember one time Rita and a few other women wanted to organize a women’s creative group.  It never got going.  The hotel is about chaotic happenstance. 


KMC: It is obvious that your life is reflected in your work. Is this a shared belief for you? 

LT: Yes. I’ve evolved and learned so much from my projects. I spent time with people with AIDS and for my exhibitions I began to require that AIDS information was available as well invites sent to the region’s health officials, nurses and doctors. I learned about the effects of fango mud when I photographed it for my Aperture book, Healing Waters. The people I shot, deemed ‘curists’ in Europe, were hoping to feel better. When my right wrist was painful, a surgeon said I needed to have my hand’s bones “frozen” in an operation. My wrist would no longer move, but he predicted it would also not hurt. My Lyme disease, which I had been previously diagnosed with, had manifested arthritis there and I could no longer hold my camera without pain. I decided to return to the place I had photographed and the like [KO17]an adhesive draws out physical and mental poisons, chemical excesses created by trauma, negative thinking, disease, degeneration of the aging process. After their three-week cure, I had movement and improved to manage my camera. 


KMC: Do you feel that you shot Healing Waters because you yourself needed to find peace? 

LT: I am interested feeling well and in the sexual emancipation of women. Since water is a carrier of the sensation of pleasure and water absorbs the dark side, photographing the subject has been a cleanse.  In my photography I look for ways to emerge out of my little hells, addictions, low points. Exploring the theme of spas opened me to a world where imagination, adoration and abandon linger. This search brought me regeneration in my loneliest times and lifted pain.

The etherealness critics has mentioned in my art practice and the and blur [KO18]in my images might hides wounds too.


KMC: You’ve had many relationships, Did you shoot and evolve your career differently when you had one lover, or another?  

LT: Yes. Around my divorce, Allan Coleman and I started dating. As a photo critic and photographer team, we enjoyed the same festivals and travel. He was very nurturing but I was not ready to settle down so I broke it off. During the shooting part of Healing Waters, I was seeing a younger French man, Thierry Cordier Lassalle, living in Nice. Living part-time with him offered me opportunities to explore mineral waters in the north of Italy, and he arranged for me to meet editors in Paris, and assisted with a show in Nice. A young employee of his broke us up. In jealousy, I refused to fly for my gallery opening in Nice because he was attending with her. I look back and realize how female jealousy blocked me from my own event.

  After that break-up it was as if I emitted pheromones, like those female moths that call male moths from many miles. Men were obsessive, but did not offer marriage. Stanley Bard, the owner of the Chelsea Hotel, had formally separated from his wife and showered me with attention. He wanted to do a book together on the hotel. We just started to get to know each other when his wife asked him to reunite and he did that quickly.

I tried to convince my next lover to marry me when we were in Cuba on his photography assignment to photograph Castro. I wrote, ”I am holding you so tenderly, I am walking in your feet, looking through your eyes, touching through your fingers, pulsing when your heart beats. I am visiting your lungs to breathe your sweetness. I pass from vein to vein to be more related. I hope I am an echo of what you imagine.” Though he was separated from his wife, he went back to her when she took pills and went to the hospital at the brink of death.

When I started dating my husband, men still flirted and I flirted back. Then I fell deeply in love with Lothar Voeller through taking photographs of him during his divorce, and he of me suffering through my Lyme disease treatments. We both evolved through reflection in the other’s eyes and produced a book, Body Biography.  We were chosen to show our work at the Santa Fe Photography Review and had an interview with Anne Wilkes Tucker, from the Houston Fine Arts Museum. She saw one of these images and said, “Why do I want to keep looking? The ‘insistence’ of a photograph to be remembered helps me as a curator to determine whether I want to acquire it for the museum.” Lothar and I enmeshed ourselves in pictures that had that kind of insistence, which is still important for us. My scent was positioned on him. When we married he took my name, Troeller, to carry on my lineage. I’ve enjoyed a calm intimacy with him for almost fourteen years.  


KMC: How do you approach your subjects, who are mostly women? Do you feel that the relationship is important? Do you feel that you shoot differently then maybe a male photographer would, being a woman yourself? 


LT: I have a female oriented sensibility and women often relate to it. When I was 22, Rita Hammond, an older woman photographer who taught at the college near my graduate school, purchased one of my photographs. She paid ahead and wanted me to create one for her while I was at the Ansel Adams Workshops. She had dark hair, and American Indian features. We shared ideas and discovered printing techniques together. She expressed she was in love with me, but I was not able to respond. When I was working on the erotic lives book project, a New York photographer came to my loft to suggest potential women she knew. She had dark hair, firm legs beneath a suit, and men’s oxfords.

She spun around the space with a steely grace and exuded enormous drive. I was attracted to her but kept distance. In Europe some of the women I photographed wanted a fling. For them being with women was simply experimentation, not lesbianism, but I was not able to move toward them physically.

I have a very comfortable openness that invites people to know me, to share.

I think that is different from men who have borders, aggressiveness, and agendas who are much harder for me to communicate with.


KMC: Did you ever get pushed aside by male photographers because you were a woman photographer? To me it seems that most successful photographers are men, especially in the fashion industry.  


LT: I know some male photographers that choose their own buddies to fill workshop teaching and lecture space over me.  

When I graduated from my first masters in photojournalism from Newhouse School at Syracuse, my father contacted a family friend at the Asbury Park Press, who wanted to assist me with a photo-journalism position. The head of photography told me that I need not bother to apply, as he would not be able to send a woman to a fire. This resistance led to applying for my MFA at the Syracuse University School of Art, choosing photography rather than working at a newspaper.

On the plus side, as a woman working in the late 80’s in Europe, I was privileged to be sought after as photography was not yet a major in the art schools there, and I was unique. The TB-AIDS DIARY was sought after for my female perspective as mostly only a few gay men artists worked on the theme during those early years. 


KMC: It seems like you embrace being a woman photographer whereas I often like to keep myself androgynous when I shoot. I specifically use initials and not my first name so there is no bias shown.


LT: I think androgyny can be potent but it’s not something I was able to successfully experiment with. It offers distance and a blank slate. One can garner space from the sitter, a kind of breathing room, so you are not tangled into the sitter’s vibe when being androgynous. I have not had much luck with this approach although theoretically I see the benefits and have liked photographers’ projects that utilize it.

I wanted to be more androgynous for my lecturing in the 1980’s and 90’s especially at colleges. I shaved the left side of my head very short, leaving a bottom ridge of longer hair. People in the art scene wore basketball sneakers, caps and black. This look didn’t work with my feminine body and petite features so I didn’t achieve the visual emblem of a feminist. I was fortunate to start exhibiting and working for photo agencies in Paris, Nice and Milan where my presentational self was regarded as cultured and intelligent.


KMC: Can you speak about which photographers or artists have had a strong influence on you? 

LT: In 1980 I was an adjunct photography professor at Otis /Parsons School of the Art Institute in Los Angles. I lived on Rosewood Avenue in a 1920s apartment with a bed that unfolded from the wall.  I learned from a neighbor that Robert Frank stayed on that street when he was in town and frequented the antique bookstore on the corner.  Frank stood in the steaming sun nearby me and my then-boyfriend, who was a writer working as a short order cook[KO19],  slinging hash and eggs at Breakfast All Day on Western Avenue. Perhaps Frank had been one of the proprietors, Willard’s, donuts[KO20]. Photography’s incestuous vistas are harder to find now. Bag ladies passed. Men hauled refrigerators and laid carpet, people with take-out from the Kentucky Fried Chicken ate a fry or two and all the while, Frank was teaching me to find my own roadmap. His shadow was there as a guide.

Another experience that formed me was when I stayed at Linda Conner’s house on Haight Street in San Francisco. She was a professor of photography at the San Francisco Art Institute and put me up before I went to assist at the Ansel Adams Workshops. She had calla lilies in her backyard like Imogene Cunningham’s flower platinum prints. It took a few days to get up the nerve to show her some slides of my greenhouse photographs. She told me to put more concern into the frame and edges of the image. After her criticism I decided to throw the four images in the wastebasket. She noticed them there the next day, and winked.

I learned to let go of photographs that don’t meet standards.  


The other photographer that changed me radically was Nathan Lyons, who taught a workshop at the Center for the Eye in July of 1973. He arrived late and his eyes were dark like a sheepherder aware of danger. He started his lecture, “I am here as an antagonist. I am interested in your responses, the concerns your announce as an individual.” He drew a grid on the blackboard. “What then might a contact sheet reveal? Different moments in time; different experiences in time; numbers on each frame show traces in time, and evoke a sense of what the photographer was feeling. The sequences and recurring subject matter in one or a group of contact sheets becomes a journal.”

He told us to stop looking for the great picture. Our assignment was to shoot two rolls of film without putting a camera to the eye; shoot two rolls of film that created a coherent, consistent contact sheet following one single consideration; take one subject and try to see if object is affecting object or object is affecting environment; shoot one roll putting object in each frame in a different environment; create a rebus with objects on a contact sheet; and establish a visual alphabet on one roll of film. After Nathan’s class, I would never feel the same about visual seeing. 


KMC: While I was in school I didn’t have extra money for special equipment, so along the way I picked up tricks to fake it. I once had to use a Dunkin Donuts napkin as a diffuser for a portable flash. Can you talk about some skills you have in your tool box that you learned off the cuff?


?LT: At Fotofusion, a photography festival in Delray Beach, Florida, one of the instructors, Douglas Kirkland, complimented me on my My Erotic Lives of Woman, which had just come out. Then, I met him and his wife, Francoise, at a luncheon, and learned about the celebrities he shot, including Coco Chanel, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He offered to let me come along to his workshop, titled ‘Glamour Lighting.’ I didn’t see how this would be my kind of style as I was interested in the mastery of natural light so mostly went to hang out.  It turned out he introduced very approachable techniques of using different sized and colored light disks. He showed the class how silver, gold, and white reflectors assisted in low light, to open up the eyes, and change skin tone using the sun on these disks. This technique radically expanded my portrait work and led to fashion assignments. He has gone on to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American S.O.C., Photographer of the Year from the PMA, and a Lucie Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Entertainment Photography from the IPA.



KMC:  I’d like you to talk about photographers that really made you aware that you lived in a time of great artists.


LT: In 1987 I was chosen by Ansel Adams’s daughter, Anne Adams (Helm), to be an assistant to Annie Leibovitz and David Hockney with other teachers including David Bales and Robert Dawson at her renewed Ansel Adams Workshops. I was invited to be in planning sessions and private dinners without the students. Annie had the American Express account and invited me to guide her to buy some of Ansel’s prints. I was standing there as she toyed with which ones to purchase. In the class, Annie was showing us her portrait style and lighting equipment. She brought Anne and her daughter to a cliff overlooking Half Dome, a location Ansel made famous. Annie encouraged the mother-daughter to embrace and suddenly Annie had problems with her assistant to get the light working. The mother and daughter never struck up that powerful pose.  Annie told us, “Your audience never saw what we didn’t get. Move on. You can’t go back.” I have used that motto time and time again. I was to spend more time with her but she got a call for a celeb shoot with Bette Midler in LA and left.  She was a whirlwind to see working and I remain in awe of her talent and stealth.

I was then invited to David Hockney’s lecture “Throw the Camera Out the Window,” at a campfire circle next to Little Yosemite Falls. I am in awe also of his predictions, including “Truth and veracity as seen in the photograph is about to end. Deal with a period rather than a moment. Linear perspective is primitive; move on to a complex view of perspective. By putting painting and photography together, we put ourselves back in space. When new images are made involving drawing, the work will be less objective and we will see the world more intimately.”  



Do you feel that real photography is a dying breed, that soon there will be little to no masters left?


LT: Photography’s roadmaps are hard to find. Visits with master photographers are passages to be savored. Few masters who have spent a lifetimes in the darkroom with film and silver papers remain. I hope the next generation of photographers will not forget their heritage.


KMC: What would you say was a turning point in your life and career that really made you progress -- a pivotal time? 


LT: In 1986 I was chosen to attend Bread Loaf Writers Conference at Middlebury College, Vermont, one of the most prestigious writers’ workshops. I had been writing two novellas, Unis and The Facemaker, and it was diverting me from my photography. I had been told my manuscripts had potent imagery but were not polished enough to get an agent. When I got the invite for ten days of mentoring with the writer Mary Morris, I figured I would learn to improve the writing or have to choose it or photography.

I had my camera on my shoulder as usual and was asked by one of the speakers to take their portrait. At that time not everyone had a camera or camera phone in his or her hand. That portrait led to an invitation into the circle of the famous writers that congregated for cocktails at a private house. I liked being in demand with my camera. Meanwhile, Morris told me I needed to get a Masters in Creative Writing to hone my books—at least two years of total dedication. So, a lot to ponder and shortly after I got home, I had a very serious accident and broke my right wrist. I couldn’t go shooting, yet rather than write on the novellas, I created photo-collages with my left hand. They evolved to my TB-AIDS DIARY. The workshop had led me to combine my talents with both words and images. I edited my mom’s words from her diary and wrote my own to go on the collages. I have yet to edit those novellas, but I gave two performances/installations of the strongest chapters. The TB-AIDS Diary project projected me into the art world and paved the way for achievements such as publication in Art Forum and exhibitions at the Havana Biennial and Fotofest.  It also gave me confidence with words. 


KMC:  Will you speak on who really reached out to you?

LT: Grazia Neri and I met at Arles Photo Festival in France, perhaps summer 1989. She is a commanding woman with a determined gaze and friendly sophistication.  She always had many photographers gathered around her and it was hard to find a way to speak. When she finally looked at my photographs, she said I need assistance in editing for them to work with her Milan editorial photo agency. She told me, “I will see you in NYC.” She did meet me and sent me one of her editors to help choose the first group of healing waters slides to go to her. She sold the story quickly and suggested I come to Italy with my other photo stories.  She took me for Risotto alla Milanese and then a limo arrived with a driver to take me to meet the editors of top publications.  I met mostly, men, whose assistants greeted me with a café. The editors spoke little English and would hold the eyepiece against their brow, look at the slides meticulously and say, “SI, we will publish.” Later, the driver took me to Rome to the offices of La Repubblica newspaper. I met editors who took me to lunch and told me stories about some of their historic photographers. They too ran a story from my project. A few years later, Grazia met me in Tuscany and organized a luncheon for me and a few other photographers at an outside garden. She let me know she believed in me.


Nathalie Emprin, who had Galerie Suzel Berna in Paris and Antibes, France, represented a number of photographers I admired. I hoped to show her my TB-AIDS DIARY at the Arles Photography Festival. At that time, reviewing was done in the garden of a hotel and it was free, though one had to wait in long lines. When I finally got to her, she decided she was leaving for lunch. I was very disappointed but we met. There was an instant recognition of our mutual passion for life and the human condition. I was drawn to her persuasive, dominant voice and demeanor.  She offered me a show right away of my TB-AIDS Diary in the south of France where AIDS was starting to be a problem due to the drug use there. It was successful and she showed it in her Paris gallery.  As my Healing Waters work evolved, Nathalie was key in showing it to book publishers; she sold it to Marval in France, and then Aperture in New York published the book. It won an Honorable Mention and 1st place Pictorial in Pictures of the Year.  It was at my opening that her friends asked me what my new work would be. I announced a project on women and eroticism and she immediately backed it. Nathalie’s enthusiasm that gave me hope and she could often find locations to bring my work into the public arena.  


KMC: Can you expand on Europeans who have pursued bringing your vision abroad?


LT: Kristin Dittrich, creator of the F-stop foto festival in Leipzig, Germany, was my reviewer at Fotofest, 2007 and expressed interest in my projects.  I had been to her city and she knew about Toskana Therme, Bad Sulza, a nearby spa to her that acquired my photography for their art collection and hotel. She was intrigued by my Chelsea Hotel series as a cultural topic for her region. She also told me that my self-portraits should be organized and she hoped she could do it. I traveled to visit my collectors there a year later, and she met me at the Liquid Sound pool. We floated, sharing intimate stories about our childhood. I photographed her in sixth months of pregnancy. She showed caring by remembering things I had said, and offering positive feedback. She showed true sadness that with her new baby she would not be able to come to NYC to guide my self-portrait project. She chose me to speak at the festival press conference and my photo made the front page of the newspaper. For her, curating is about meeting photographers and understanding their complexities and process.


KMC: How do you cope with aging? 


LT: For this I looked for a colleague with more experience at placing their career archive in a collection. Rose Hartman, twelve years my senior, and I got talking about it at an opening, so we exchanged details of organization, presentation, and agents and it led to friendship. She photographed the icons of our time from Halston to Diana Vreeland to Warhol in the late 70’s and 80’s. She is still shooting-- Kate Moss, Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano, Anna Wintour  --and is the subject of a new film on her life, currently playing at seventeen festivals, called The Incomparable Rose Hartman. Her first book, BIRDS OF PARADISE, An Intimate View of the New York Fashion World (Delacorte Press), remains recognized as much for being a collection of photographs as a history of an era. Being with her at home and viewing art at galleries together, she showed me how to be ageless by remaining curious, choosing the right clothes, and being persistent. We have a lot in common as we’ve both done fashion assignments, my most notable ones being the Apolda Design Award Fashion Catalogue and my exhibition in Medellin, Colombia. She prepared me for the fashion press queries. Around that time, my alma mater Syracuse University’s Bird Rare Book Library decided to acquire my archives and I sent some materials. Her day will come.


KMC: What kind of emotions do you want to communicate in your photos?

LT: Peacefulness. Sensuality. Energy. Transcendence. Atmosphere. Community.


KMC: Is there something you wish to specifically pass on that you’ve learned in photography? 


LT: I’ve learned it is self-destructive to expect passion regularly. Nature under ideal conditions creates the sweetest peach but some are bruised, blocked from the sun, worm-ridden. If I want passionate moments with photograph, then I must nurture, work hard, and not be consumed by searching for it.  Accept still days, boring photographs, no photographs. Passion comes when conditions are right[KO22].