|According to the New York Times, Bunny Yeager “is widely credited with helping turn the erotic pinup – long a murky enterprise in every sense of the word – into high photographic art.”
Born in 1929 as Linnea Yeager in Wilkinsburg, PA, at 17 Yeager moved to Miami and, adopted the name “Bunny” after a character played by Lana Turner in the 1945 film “Week-end at the Waldorf.” She became a sought after local model and won a number of local beauty contests against the backdrop of Miami’s thriving beach tourism industry. Initially, she turned to photography to help her modeling expenses. After taking night classes in photography, Yeager went professional in 1953, when US Camera called her “the world’s prettiest photographer.” Ultimately, she became one of the most influential photographers of the “golden age of cheesecake” photography in the 1950s and 60s’ and was best known for her photographs of model Bettie Page (1923-2008). Diane Arbus called Yeager, “the world’s greatest pinup photographer.” Yeager also made remarkable self-portraits, appearing as both a blonde bombshell and a voluptuous brunette in a variety of costumes and settings, which prefigure the work of Cindy Sherman.
Yeager understood that young women of her generation were more independent and free-thinking than previous generations and her photographs reflected that shift. She moved her models out of the studio, using natural light, sometimes with a flash, posed them in active gestures and had them look directly at the camera. Harold Golen, who hosted a 2011 exhibition of Yeager’s work said: “Her women are real. Yeager usually photographed with a Rolleiflex or a Speed Graphic camera, and often made and styled her own backdrops, props and costumes. Her photographs take full advantage of the saturated color that characterized mid-century color photography, whose use was becoming widespread through picture magazines such as Life and Playboy.
Yeager worked with several models during her career, including Playboy model Lisa Winters and Bond girl Ursula Andress but said that working with Bettie Page, “was like doing a dance together.” Yeager and Page collaborated briefly in 1954 producing over a thousand photographs, which helped Page become one of the most successful pin-up models of the era. Yeager photographed Page clothed and nude, notably in a leopard-print swimsuit curled up with live cheetahs at a Boca Raton, FL animal park. Yeager made the leopard print outfits and bikinis that Page wore during their shoots. As Yeager later said, “I want to show off how beautiful my subjects are, whether it’s a cheetah or a live girl or two of them together.”
At the peak of Yeager’s career, her photographs were published in hundreds of magazines, including Playboy, Cavalier, Escapade, Nugget, Fling, Sunbathing, National Police Gazette and Figure Quarterly. She published over 30 books, including Bunny Yeager’s Beautiful Backsides (2012), Bunny Yeager’s Flirts of the Fifties (2007), and How I Photograph Myself (1964). In 2010, Yeager’s self-portraiture was the subject of the exhibition, Bunny Yeager: The Legendary Queen of the Pinup, at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA; and in 2013 the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale held a career retrospective, Bunny Yeager: Both Sides of the Camera. A monograph, Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom: Pin-up Photography’s Golden Era was published in 2012 and a volume celebrating her collaboration with Bettie Page, Bettie Page: Queen of Curves (2014) was published posthumously. In 2014, Bunny Yeager passed away.