The Incomporable Bettie Page Archives of Irving Klaw

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1. to cause disorder or turmoil in
2. to destroy, usually temporarily, the normal continuance or unity of; interrupt:
3. to break apart
4. to radically change (an industry, business strategy, etc.) as by introducing a new product or service that creates a new market

Bettie Page and Irving Klaw
Bettie Page

In 1949, Bettie Page arrived in New York City with dreams of becoming an actress. She did what many other such hopefuls do, even today; take classes, get a day-job, and model a little on the side. In 1952, Bettie met one of the first of America's 'fetish' photographers, Irving Klaw, who began hiring Bettie to pose for him. The ensuing collaboration would produce some of the most iconic images - not just of Bettie - but of any woman, anywhere.

The images in this book were taken between 1952 and 1957, during the height of McCarthyism, pre-dating Women's Lib and the Sexual Revolution by more than a decade. They are sometimes provocative, sometimes playful, and always perfect. For example, on page 12 and 13, we see Bettie in black satin and lace lingerie, staring defiantly at the camera, curling a finger, tempting the viewer closer. On page 11, Bettie kicks up her heels with an uninhibited laugh, at home in her gorgeous body. On page 103, Bettie's signature bangs are perfectly coifed as she sits, curled up on an arm chair, looking as if we just happened to walk in on her, at home. Whether tied up or sitting down, spanking or being spanked, Bettie exudes confidence, wit, freedom, and an unabashed love of life.

Back then, however, not everyone saw these images in such a positive light. While Irving Klaw and Bettie Page were proud of what they were creating, these images were seen by some as scandalous, obscene, even dangerous. In fact, the U.S. Government conducted a witch hunt that targeted Klaw (among others). In 1957, the Kefauver Hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency attempted to tie images to a larger evil; that young people would view them and become sexually deviant, perverted, and/or violent (towards themselves or others). While Klaw was never charged with a crime, or censored by the Senate, he did leave those hearings determined to return to New York and destroy his own work. But before Klaw could burn his thousands of prints and negatives, including many featuring Bettie Page, his sister Paula Klaw saved and hid many of them. The images in this book represent a curated collection of the surviving photographs.

Bettie Page and Irving Klaw's collaboration produced far more than merely pin-up photographs. They gave generations of people (women in particular) something to admire; they held up a mirror to all women, by showing one, strong, unapologetic woman, at home with her curvaceous body. While by today's standards some of these pictures may seem tame, even humorous, there was nothing funny about what Bettie and Irving were up to. They were, maybe unwittingly, blazing a trail for the future pro-sex feminists of the world to follow; a document of life, of love, and sexual freedom.