It bugs Bunny Yeager just a little bit when people say she shot pinup girls in the 1950s and 1960s just as well as any man did. She shot them better than any man did, or any other woman, as far as shes concerned. But she does admit that she got the idea from guys, who when Bunny herself did modeling were always more interested in what was beneath the high-fashion clothes they were supposed to be taking pictures of.
When I was a model, most of the photographers I met and they were all males seemed to want to shoot nude girls, she recalls. When I was posing, they all tried to get my clothes off. Hey, cant you pull down your blouse a little more? Hey, lets do one without your top.
Id always say, oh, Im a professional model, Im not allowed to do that. And theyd accept that. Actually, nobody had ever said anything to me one way or the other. But I had no interest in doing it. I was very shy, and I didnt want to be known as a nude model.
But when she moved to the other side of the camera, everything changed. Bunny Yeager won fame and fortune persuading hundreds, possibly thousands, of other models to take their tops off. Bottoms, too. She turned pinup photos into an art form and made bare skin the official uniform of Miami Beach.
And now, at a time when a few clicks of the mouse can bring a cascade of artless pornography into any computer in America, shes staging an unlikely comeback. In cooperation with Miamis Center for Visual Communication, Yeager is opening a combination studio and gallery in Wynwood this week.
The working studio will be Yeagers headquarters for a new series of projects triggered by the long line of models who approach her every week, hoping for a chance to work with a photographer who was already famous four decades before they were born. And the gallery, with rotating exhibits of Yeagers pinup shots, will for the first time give her a permanent location to display her work to the public.
The studio and gallery are just part of a flurry of new activity celebrating Yeagers photography. She published one coffee table book of her photos last year ( Bunny Yeagers Darkroom, $60, Rizzoli) and has another of her work with pinup icon Bettie Page due next year. German fashion house Bruno Banani has launched a line of swimsuits based on the bikinis Yeager designed for her models. And Miamis Harold Golen Galley is doing a show next month of paintings inspired by her photos.
Its a startling turnaround for a photographer who, at age 83, believed her entire genre had long ago been obliterated by the new breed of men magazines that favored gynecology over allure, pushing aside pinups for porn.
I did no shooting at all in the 1970s and 1980s, recalls Yeager. In the 1960s, I shot more pictures than I was able to sell. But then mens magazines starting going out of business. You had magazines like Penthouse kind of smutty. They had girls showing more than they should. I wasnt going to try to show more than they did, because they showed everything.
It was an ironic turn for the woman who along with her sometimes-employer Hugh Hefner did as much as anyone, ever, to make photography of the unclad female form popular and respectable. Yeagers pinups were ubiquitous in the 1950s, not only in mens magazines (she shot eight Playboy centerfolds and, in one 1959 issue, added the cover and a 12-page pictorial story as well) but in slightly more clothed versions general-circulation publications like Pageant. She published more than a dozen books on photography and even appeared on the quiz show To Tell The Truth.