My Spa Experience
The Spa Photographer Tells All
I arrived in New York City in 1992, to pursue loft living, which most artists do early in their career—and chose the growing Chelsea neighborhood. Curators and editors would come by the loft/studio to review my projects. It was at this time that I was very involved in the TB-AIDS Diary exhibition, and as well I had created, and was evolving my spa/healing photographs. It was exciting to have top visionaries visit and look at my slide presentations, guiding me further with what then was my “new” art photographs of healing water sites.
I lived at the loft a few years until my collector and collaborator, who stayed at the Chelsea Hotel, suggested with so much travel, I might consider an easier lifestyle arrangement at the hotel. In 1994, the managing director of the Chelsea Hotel took me to a room that would be coming due in a few months, but when he opened the closed door, a snake lunged out at us, and he said I could have the apartment the next day. I moved onto the 8th floor and from there to a 3rd floor apartment with a view and eating nook outside with the gothic iron railings, and later I moved to the 9th floor to a quiet room with bay windows.
I had to travel abroad, Europe, Japan, and South America to make my unique views of spa treatments, spa nature environments, but coming home to the hotel focused with artists was a wonderful reprieve and lab for my ideas. Then powerHouse Books suggested a spa book just before the internet took off, so I had the chance to investigate spas even in New York City where sugar rubs and gold facials were taking hold.
Living at the Chelsea, I knew creative artists and attended their events. There were Susanne Bartsch’s transgender late night cocktails, Betsy Johnson’s fashion gigs, and Alexander McQueen’s visions. This edgy realm seemed to guide me to take chances with what was “traditional” spa photography, and make new work about mind, body, and soul using neon light, blur, and atmosphere.
In 1994, the managing director of the Chelsea Hotel took me to a room that would be coming due in a few months, but when he opened the closed door, a snake lunged out at us, and he said I could have the apartment the next day.
Spa owners from around stopped by the hotel before 9/11 and would come to my room to buy photographs for the walls of their reception area, and the contacts lead to exhibitions, such as 30 spa photos on aluminum at Miramonte Spa, Bad Gastein, Austria’s summer art festival. Spa magazines published my work since they could meet me in the city, and spas from all over came by to see what I could bring to their projects. One spa trip organizer would give me a theme to shoot all year from sunsets to rolling waters and then use the photographs in her brochure. The ISPA Media luncheon held in New York City, where I lived, allowed me to learn many new facts and places to photograph. On my way home from such an event, the powerful art and photographs of the Whitney, The Met, MOMA were minutes away.
My publisher, Aperture, for Healing Waters (1997), was based in New York City, so I had a major show there, then Saba Gallery, a major photo agency, gave me an exhibition—and I evolved a following that would never have happened anywhere else during those years.
The spa world has more access to photography now. I still have my slides, about 2,000 that have not found an archival home . . . images of Tiberias, Baden-Baden, Japan . . .
I, like most photographers, have shot digital since 2000, and shot images, too, of some NYC hotel spas from Wall Street to 57th Street.
The real-estate market in NYC is brutal—and my hotel was sold. The new owner decided that although I lived there for 20 years, that not just I, but others, should move out to make way for a financially productive hotel. I finally left because they did not manage the toxic mold during renovations, but at my goodbye party, a publisher saw the photographs I took of my “home” in NYC, and signed a book contract, titled Living Inside the Chelsea Hotel, Linda Troeller, Schiffer Publishing, due out in November 2015. It has 76 iconic photos, my autobiography that includes eviction stories and high points, and I’ll kick off a press signing in December at El Quijote Bar, which is in the Chelsea hotel—the noted locale where Andy Warhol envisioned his famous film, Chelsea Girls.