“Make the most of what you have and enjoy being female; enjoy being you.” — Bunny Yeager

“I want to show off how beautiful my subjects are, whether its a cheetah or a live girl or two of them together.”
— Bunny Yeager

It’s the birthday of model and pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager. She is most famous for her photographs of Bettie Page, and was instrumental in getting Bettie Page the 1955 Playboy cover. There weren’t too many women running around taking nude pin-up photos. There also weren’t too many pin-up models who also were photographers. It was Yeager’s lifestyle, her mission, her reason for being, her passion. Nude pin-up photography was the Wild West already, and Yeager’s work stands out from the pack. Bettie Page has moved into a category beyond stardom or even “notoriety”. There are as many – if not more – photographs of Bettie Page as of Marilyn Monroe. (Here’s my review of the recent documentary Bettie Page Reveals All.)

Bunny Yeager was born Linnea Eleanor Yeager in 1929, and renamed herself “Bunny” after Lana Turner’s character in Weekend at the Waldorf. Her family moved to Florida when she was a kid, and she thrived in the sun, she loved the beach culture. And the beach culture loved her too. She had a classic pin-up figure, she wore bikinis, she got a lot of attention, which she loved. Her first job as a model was a small gig for a local bakery … so she got her start – literally – in “cheesecake” photography. She wanted to be good at modeling. She felt the best way to learn was to experiment in photographing herself. These weren’t early versions of the “selfie.” They were rigorously self-directed photo shoots. During these experiments with her own image, she became a photographer.

She said, “If you don’t study yourself, you’re not getting a true idea of how you look.”

Through this process, she found her way. She had a knack for it. She would approach women she thought looked promising. On the beach, at a busstop, at a breakfast counter, wherever she found them. She would ask them if they were up for a photo shoot. Male photographers have been doing this since photography was invented. Sometimes their intentions are honorable, sometimes not. Bunny Yeager was a model who understood the appeal of the pin-up world, its eroticism, its tease and promise. Yeager liked to photograph her subjects outside, at the beach, in the trees, with animals.

In a 2012 interview with Youri Mevs at the Miami International Book Fair, there was the following exchange:

Mevs: “In your book there’s a statement … where you confirm that it would be a very boring place if all women looked alike –”

Bunny: “Our Maker was very clever about this — because sometimes that’s the little tweak we see in another person and fall in love with, perhaps – the thing that’s wrong with them.”

In this context, objectification was a good thing, a healthy and a fun thing (if everyone’s consenting). There is nothing dirty about sex: nothing dirty about wanting it, about wanting to look at beautiful girls in bikinis, about being a beautiful girl in a bikini, there is nothing dirty about desire. Society has turned these healthy positive things against us (women in particular suffer, although men suffer too). During the time when Yeager was working, you could be arrested for this stuff. There were raids on photographers’ studios. People were arrested. (There’s a great story about Bettie Page being arrested for “indecent exposure” during one of her photo shoots. She protested. Not by saying “They forced me to do this!” or “I needed money for rent!” She protested the word itself: “indecent.” To her, there was nothing “indecent” about being naked. Like, THAT was her beef with the arrest.) This is sex positivity that has almost gone by the wayside, except in burlesque circles – and those are good circles to be in, with their spirit of playfulness and generosity.

Yeager said in 2013, “I’m not doing it to titillate anybody’s interests. I want to show off how beautiful my subjects are, whether it’s a cheetah or a live girl or two of them together. That’s more important to me than anything.”

When she finally met Bettie Page, she found her soulmate and muse.

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Bunny Yeager, Bettie Page, cheetahs

Yeager said of Bettie Page, “She was the best model because she not only had perfect facial features, but a great body and wasn’t ashamed to show it. It was impossible to take a bad photo of her. Bettie Page was always ready for the camera’s eye.”

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Yeager could bring things out in models that other photographers couldn’t. Perhaps it was because she was a woman. The models could relax in her presence, be themselves, let out their playful funny sides. When sex is a two-way street, it’s so much better. In fact, sex that isn’t a two-way street should be abolished. What’s the point, then? Yeager worked right up until the end. She was planning her next shoot when she died.

While she will always be known for her collaboration with Bettie Page , her work encompasses much more than that. She worked out of South Florida and her photos were often drenched in sun and natural light.

You look at her photos and you can hear the laughter that must have been going on, in front of and behind the camera, you can hear the waves crashing, the seagulls calling. There is life there in the frame. Lightning captured in a bottle.

A true pioneer.

She died in 2014 at the age of 85.

“I was just confident my work was good.” — Bunny Yeater

 
 
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7 Responses to “Make the most of what you have and enjoy being female; enjoy being you.” — Bunny Yeager

  1. Jack says:

    “…a spirit of playfulness and generosity…”

    If this isn’t the best description of the best kind of sex and or sexual expression I don’t know what is… an absolutely dead on beautiful turn of words Sheila.

    • sheila says:

      Jack – thanks! My utopia would be sex would only occur when that vibe was present. We’d live in a much happier world.

  2. Bill Wolfe says:

    What was your opinion of The Notorious Bettie Page? I thought Gretchen Mol was good, and Lili Taylor and Chris Bauer were sweet and poignant as the Klaws. I did not get any of the sense of fun from Sarah Paulson’s portrayal of Bunny Yeager, nor from her working relationship with Bettie, that you conveyed in this piece. That was a weakness in the movie in my opinion. Also, I distrust any movie that invents a fictional love interest for the heroine. (See: Frances.)

    • sheila says:

      Bill – I only saw that movie once – back when it came out – but do remember thinking Paulson was miscast. Just because you’re a character actress doesn’t mean you can play every character. I could see someone like Charlize Theron pulling it off – Bunny has to be a pin-up girl, with a love of pin-up – she LIVED as a pin-up. Not that Theron is a pin-up but she could be. A Vargas girl in the flesh.

    • sheila says:

      … or Patricia Clarkson, maybe? she has that free-spirited beachy vibe.

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