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The Early Photographs of Bettie Page: An American Icon Book Review by Jim Linderman


   Untitled (Bettie Page) Copyright 1951, 2013 Jack Faragasso Used with Permission


As a young art student in Manhattan during the early 1950s Jack Faragasso happened to be in the right place at the right time.  Through a series of contacts, he found himself in a studio in 1952 taking photographs of an amateur model who was posing for three photographers.  Each ponied up three dollars for the session.  While Faragasso doesn't mention it, the studio was likely maintained by floundering Jazz musician Cass Carr.  The model was Bettie Page, and she literally lived around the corner from the primitive studio.

Faragasso tells the story of how he came to take the photographs here, nearly all which are previously unpublished, and in doing so he reveals much about the workings of the semi-legal practice of nude modeling during what has come to be known as the "Camera Club" period of the model's career.  His photographs also reveal (which may come as something of a surprise) that Ms. Page was quite willing to pose completely nude, even at this early point in her career. 

To my knowledge, no one has yet mentioned one of the reasons, if not the primary reason, Bettie Page was the most unforgettable pinup model in history. It is the lack of symmetry in her face.  Ms. Page had one sleepy eye.  Maybe no one has mentioned it because all were looking at other attributes.  Jack Faragasso provides here the most dramatic illustration of this "imperfection" in the remarkable untitled photograph above from 1951 which is chosen to open the book.  A key photograph of the model, and for that alone this book is a valuable contribution.  There is beauty and pathos in equal measure.  Would a publisher have chosen to put this portrait on one of the hundreds of magazine covers which featured Ms. Page during the 1950s and well into the 1960s?  Unlikely. Bettie Mae Page, her happy face off and guard slightly down, a working woman on the fringe? In that humanity is not only much of her appeal, but the truth.  Jack Faragasso captured it.

While the photo would not sell a line of "retro" clothing, or likely become a tacky refrigerator magnet, it reveals as much about the model as any photo.


Perhaps it illustrates the difference between an artist taking a photograph and a pornographer taking a photograph.  Irving Klaw (actually, for the most part his sister Paula Klaw) and several dozen others took beautiful photos of the model over her brief career, but even those who have lived with and studied those famous unseemly poses will have to admit some of the work here is just as interesting and certainly a gift from the past.

There are some 30 photographs here, as Mr. Faragasso shot one roll.  The only props are a pearl necklace, some lingerie and in several shots a butterfly chair.  Bettie Page is Mid-Century modern.  The work is in black and white…often stark.  Ms. Page affects a few of her standard looks, but she is tired.  She is still unabashedly beautiful.

Mr. Faragasso is a painter, a teacher and a successful author of notable instructional books for artists.  Early in his career, he sold a few paperback book illustrations for what are now called vintage sleaze paperbacks based on these photographs during the 1950s, though he was much more noted for the work he did for science fiction books.

Because the model is a cult figure and some of the fans are beyond obsessive, there will be those who question the quality of the work, the reproduction of the photos, you name it.  Not this reviewer.  I'll take any opportunity to see unpublished material of the model, and I wouldn't quibble on the price either.  The discounted price on Amazon currently is less than a carton of cigarettes.  Anyone who claims membership in a Bettie Page fan club who questions spending the price of a movie ticket to see these photos is a serious sour grape.  One of them has already complained publicly he will have trouble "improving" on them with Photoshop.  WHAT?

If you don't think some thirty previously unseen photographs of the most influential pinup model of the 20th century isn't something of a gift, especially at this price... you have happened upon this review by mistake.

Is Jack Faragasso Bunny Yeager, whose recent book by Petra Mason was also reviewed here?  No.  Has he made an important contribution to our understanding of the most iconic (and abused) model of the 20th century?  Yes, he most certainly has.

The Early Photographs of Bettie Page: An American Icon  Photographs & Drawings by Jack Faragasso is Available at Amazon and from the Publisher Binary Publications HERE.   54 pages.  Published 2013.   Mr. Faragasso's website is HERE