Buzzed Books #18 by Madison Strake Bernath
Bettie Page: Queen of Curves
Do not mistake Bettie Page: Queen of Curves by Petra Mason as simply a coffee table book of sexy photographs. Not that these aren’t seductive pictures—there’s plenty of gorgeous skin lining the pages. Queen of Curves is about more than just the model, focusing much of its text on the photographer Bunny Yeager, who was at the time the Page photos were taken, all of 25 years old. Yeager had never even sold a picture before, and Page was her first nude shoot. Despite her inexperience, Yeager managed to photograph a softness in Page, which is absent in the famous S&M photographs of Page’s earlier career.
Perhaps it was because Yeager was a woman, or perhaps it was because she had been a model herself, but these photos capture something unique in this iconic model’s story. The photographs in Queen of Curves (which portray a 32-year-old Page at the end of her modeling work) depict a story of two women, one budding and one in her prime, working together to create beauty.
Yeager and Page are at their best, in my opinion, when they shoot photo-stories. These give us a chance to see Page in motion.
Yeager loved to shoot her models as they engaged in activities. She liked movement, and Page was athletic and hard-working. She, according to Yeager, could hit and hold poses that other models of the day couldn’t.
The most famous of these photo-stories is probably the safari shoot in Boca Raton’s Africa USA. In that series, Page is seen straddling a cheetah, hanging from a branch with a knife in her mouth, and spearing a fish, all in a self-made cheetah print “jungle girl” costume. She looks sexy, fierce, fun, sultry, and, at the same time, surprisingly innocent. It’s this innocence of the female form that Yeager is so talented at capturing.
Interestingly, the book ends with Yeager’s and Page’s first photo shoot together. It’s a glamorous nude sequence filled with pinup shots of Page looking alluringly at the camera. What makes these photos so fascinating? According to Yeager, “Certainly the beauty of the model and the composition and the lines of the pose have a great deal to do with it, but it takes a bit more to enhance it with the hypnotic quality that keeps the viewer wanting to return and take a second and a third look.”
That bit more is Bunny Yeager herself. Bettie Page: Queen of Curves will draw you back again and again. Its beauty, sex appeal, and playfulness are too intoxicating for just one look.
Madison Strake Bernath (Episode 46 and 75) is a writer of both creative nonfiction and fiction. She graduated with an MFA from the University of Central Florida with a thesis of travel essays. She is currently an assistant nonfiction editor at Pithead Chapel. In her free time she sucks the life out of cats and berates herself for failing to write/read something.