Remembering Bunny Yeager, queen of pin-up photographers who popularized the bikini

Yeager preparing to photograph pin-up legend Bettie Page in 1954. Credit: Rizzoli New York

Yeager preparing to photograph pin-up legend Bettie Page in 1954. (Credit: Rizzoli New York)

Linnea Eleanor Yeager, better known to the world as Bunny, began her career in the 1950s as a pin-up model. She found success in front of the camera, but she longed to be behind it; her interest in photography lead her to team with then-unknown Bettie Page, which launched her career as one of the world’s most successful female photographers. Sadly, Yeager passed away this week at age 85.

She died on May 25, in a North Miami nursing facility where she had been under hospice care for a week. Yeager’s agent, Ed Christin, said the official cause of death was heart failure.

Born in Wilkinsburg, Penn., on March 13, 1929, Yeager started her career as a model in the 1940s. She quickly became one of the most photographed and sought-after models in Miami at that time, but soon she decided to turn the camera on herself and become her own model. Posing in bathing suits she handmade, Yeager took self-portrait shots that eventually became a book in 1964, called How I Photograph Myself

Yeager began taking photos of Page in 1954, as she was starting her career as a pin-up photographer. One of Yeager’s (and Page’s) most iconic shots was holiday themed and depicted Page wearing a red Santa hat and nothing else. In a past Associated Press interview, Yeager reflected on how sending that photo to Playboy in 1955 helped propel her career.

In her career, Yeager had a long list of accomplishments. Aside from working with Page, she photographed an assortment of models over the years, including Swedish actress Ursula Andress, star of the 1962 James Bond film Dr. No. The famed shot of Andress’ character in a white bikini, with a knife at her side, was taken by Yeager. Remarkably, Yeager’s earlier work helped popularize the bikini, which demonstrated just how much of an influence Yeager had on American culture.  

As a photographer, Yeager was well regarded for her ability to connect with her models and her natural lighting skills that gave her models a natural, yet sensual look. Her passion for photography helped show a generation of women (and men) that there was also a place for them behind the camera.

Though her career slowed when several magazines struggled over the last decade, Yeager’s career was in the spotlight again in 2010 when the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh held an exhibition of her greatest images. Many other galleries have showcased Yeager’s work over the years, and her images were published in over a dozen books, including The Art of Glamour Photography (1962) and Bunny Yeager’s Flirts of the Fifties (2007).

Bunny Yeager was regarded by many as “Queen of the Pin-up Photographers, ” and her impact on photography, modeling, and fashion, continues to be remembered decades later.

(Via LA Times)

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