Warhol exhibits pin-up queen’s photographs
From Playboy photographer to Playboy model, Pittsburgh-area native Bunny Yeager has seen and photographed it all.
Now 81 and living in Miami, she’s writing her autobiography and working on three new photo books. Recently, The Andy Warhol Museum opened a small exhibit of her classic 1950s and ’60s pin-up photographs, titled “Bunny Yeager: The Legendary Queen of the Pin-Up.” The exhibit, her first, is a survey of photographs of and by Yeager.
Her book, “How I Photograph Myself,” published in 1964 by A.S. Barnes & Co., featured hundreds of self-portraits in which Yeager takes on many different looks, styles and moods. As visitors will see, the images on display are mostly from that book. Nearly all self-portraits, they foreshadow the works of contemporary artists Cindy Sherman and Yasumasa Morimura, known for their own masquerade-based self-portraiture.
Growing up in Pitcairn, Yeager moved to Miami with her family at the age of 17 and quickly became one of the most photographed pin-up models of the immediate postwar period. After winning the “Queen of Miami” beauty pageant in the late ’40s, she went on to appear in countless pin-up pictures, becoming the most photographed beauty in Miami.
By 1953, Yeager began taking photographs of other beautiful women and herself. That same year, she sold her first photo, which she had taken as part of an assignment for a night course in photography.
“I sold a photo of a model friend, Maria Stinger, a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, for the cover of Eye Magazine for its March 1954 cover,” Yeager says. “I made her a fake leopard-skin bikini, and she posed wearing it between two live cheetahs.
“I have to admit, it was outstanding,” Yeager says. “You couldn’t buy a bikini suit in stores, and this one went so well using the live wild animals. I shot it on 4-by-5 color ektachrome transparency film. It was sold in a box of 10 sheets of film. I shot all 10 with similar poses, thinking of a cover shot as I did. I used a 4-by-5 Speed Graphic Camera I had borrowed from the school.
“After I made that first sale so fast, I started shooting more girls and seemed to be able to sell everything I shot and sent in to magazines that ran such pictures,” Yeager says. “I was destined to be a photographer, but I had not been looking to do that when I went to the photography school. I really was more interested in darkroom work so I could duplicate and print lots of modeling photos of myself to help me get modeling work.”
But it was her iconic images of Bettie Page that would make Yeager even more famous. Her pictures of Page and many other models have graced the pages and covers of Playboy magazine. Yeager sold her first photograph to Playboy for their Holiday issue in1955.
“I photographed a new model discovery, Bettie Page, and dressed her in a Santa hat I sewed myself. … She was completely nude posing on her knees by a white small Christmas tree. The magazine was just starting out. I saw it on the newsstand and bought a copy to get the mailing address and mailed my 4-by-5 color transparencies off to them. Hugh Hefner … called me on the phone almost immediately to ask me if I would let them publish it for $100. It sounded good to me. I accepted his offer and it was one of the best moves I ever made. I’ve had a long friendship with Hef ever since that first sale.”
Over the years, she also sold photos to other men’s magazines, like Escapade, Modern Man, Night & Day, Art Photography, Caper, Cavalier, Dude, Gent, Fling, Man To Man, Nugget, Photo, Rogue, Eye, Vue, Police Gazette, Saga, Sunbathing, Cane, Figue Quarterly, Jest, Joker and Humorama.
“I still sell photos to Playboy magazine,” Yeager says. “I’ve discovered and photographed eight Playmate centerfold girls, done covers and pictorials for them over all these years.”
Yeager herself was featured in Playboy in its May 1955 issue. A seven-page pictorial titled “Double Exposure” showed Yeager shooting pictures of herself and shooting a model.
Yeager says she never intended to become a professional photographer. She simply learned the craft to cut down on the expenses of becoming a professional model.
“But because I sold my first pictures and most of those that followed, I fell into the business of being a professional photographer,” she says. “But I kept on modeling, even into my forties. I never gave up modeling officially.”
Through it all, Yeager never posed nude. “Every time I posed, it was a job for an ad or fashions or the newspapers, etc.,” she says.
Yeager has published 30 photography books. Her first was “Photographing the Female Figure” (1957), a paperback for Fawcett Books.
“I have lots of ideas for other books and plenty of photos in my files from over the years to keep producing them,” she says. “I have an office and studio near where I live in Miami Shores, Fla. I’ve never stopped being a photographer.”
‘Bunny Yeager: The Legendary Queen of the Pin-Up’
When: Through June 19. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; until 8 p.m. Fridays
Admission: $15; $9 for senior citizens; $8 for children and students
Where: The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side
Details: 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org