Photographer Bunny Yeager defined an era of pin-up glamour, feeding the fantasies of generations of men with her famous photos of Bettie Page and countless other coy seductresses in the 1950s and ’60s.
But few people recall that before she was a photographer, Yeager was a top model, posing for Playboy and high-end store ads.
Her talent for creating iconic images in front of as well as behind the camera are revealed in a series of never-shown, vintage self-portraits that will be on display beginning Saturday at the tiny Harold Golen Gallery in Wynwood.
“These pictures have not seen the light of day,” Yeager, 81, says from her Miami Shores home. “I shot them mostly for my own purposes — to remember in later days, like now, what I used to be.”
Since word of the show got out, Yeager and Golen have been inundated with calls; even The New York Times wants to do a story. The response has both surprised and gratified the pioneering glamour girl.
“It’s exciting to find out that I’m appreciated by so many people,” she says. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing. People want to see me. It’s like my life is starting all over again.”
Gallery owner Golen is thrilled to be showing Yeager’s self-portraits. A Miami native, Golen, 47, had been a fan of her Page photos since he was a teen. As the owner of the Pop Shop on South Beach, an outlet for pop culture memorabilia and collectibles, he collected Page photos and magazines long before Yeager’s most famous model was rediscovered as a cultural icon.
“It’s so cool,” says Golen, sitting in the office of his bright orange Wynwood gallery, where books on Page and Yeager sit next to works by well-known pop artists such as Ron English.
For him, Yeager’s photos embody the odd, innocent sensuality of the Miami where he grew up.
“They always fascinated me,” he says. “There’s this whimsical quality about them — they’re trying to be stylish and smart, but there’s a little joke at the same time, and they’re a little twisted, too.”
Golen feels his exhibit will add to that pop iconography.
“Now there’s a whole other aspect to this. There’s this other goddess to worship. We’ve done Bettie Page. Now we have Bunny Yeager.”
Born in a small town outside Pittsburgh, Linnea Eleanor Yeager (she took the name Bunny from a Lana Turner film) moved to Miami with her family at 17, and quickly found success as a model, posing for high-end fashion shoots and pin-up postcards.
In the early 1950s she took a photography class to learn to produce the promotional pictures she needed for her modeling career, but soon found she had a talent for original images that combined sexiness with a captivating sense of personality and place.
The forthright Yeager would ask girls on the street and in stores to pose. (She found one future Playboy model at a Flagler Street bus stop.)
“I wasn’t afraid to talk to them —if they were with their mother that was even better, ‘cause I’d get an instant yes or no. Most girls were afraid if a man approached them. … They had no fears with me.”
Besides capturing her long-legged good looks at their peak, Yeager used her self-portraits to try out ideas she could use in shooting other models — and to stretch a restless creative imagination.