The pin-up girls of the 1950’s might seem too posed and polished to the modern eye. When it comes to displays of sexuality, the technical aspects of the medium, the willingness of producers to meet the demands of an audience, and the tastes of said audience, all take infinitesimally small steps to growing into the era and characterising it.
In the world of erotic photography, nobody has taken larger strides than Bettie Page. Her career was longer than most models could hope for, and the influence of her work from that time can be seen today, on as broad a swatch as that between Katy Perry and Dita Von Teese. Page was uninhibited and unforgettable, whether posing as a sultry and no-nonsense dominatrix, or roped into submission. The arch of her eyebrows gave her a devious ferality, while a simple smile could turn her into the image of the girl next door again. The coquettish way she coiffed her dark hair, and wink a startlingly clear blue eye, had become a trademark of a seductress that few can do better.
Page might well have reclaimed female sexuality for an entire generation, and even, perhaps, for herself. In her early years, she was a victim of incest and molestation and lived in an orphanage for a year, tasked with the care of her younger siblings. She was a debater, and voted in her high school graduating batch as “Most Likely To Succeed”. As the 1950’s drew to a close, Page found herself drawn to the fellowship of born-again Christianity, and retired from erotic photography. She might have been an unwitting herald of the free love generation of the 1960’s, and the 1980’s saw a renewed interest in her tamer modelling—an interest that she remained unaware of.
In 1998, Page stated in an interview for Playboy magazine that, concerning her career in erotic photography, she “never thought it was shameful. I felt normal. It’s just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous.”