In 1949, Bettie Page moved to New York with aspirations of becoming an actress. It was there she met one of America’s first ‘fetish’ photographers, Irving Klaw. From 1952 to 1957, Page worked as a model for Klaw for both his photographs and films, earning her the media nickname, “The Queen of Bondage.”
Klaw was targeted during the Kefauver Hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, in which his photographs were claimed to be causing deviance, perversion and violence. Klaw was not charged, but felt compelled to burn his prints and negatives upon returning to New York. What photos survived were saved by his sister Paula. “BETTIE! : The Incomparable Bettie Page Archives of Irving Klaw,” is comprised of those images saved by Paula without Irving’s knowledge.
In a 1998 interview with Lorelei Sharkely, Page said of that time, “The only bondage posing I ever did was for Irving Klaw and his sister Paula. Usually every other Saturday he had a session for four or five hours with four or five models and a couple of extra photographers, and in order to get paid you had to do an hour of bondage. And that was the only reason I did it. I never had any inkling along that line. I don’t really disapprove of it; I think you can do your own thing as long as you’re not hurting anybody else — that’s been my philosophy ever since I was a little girl. I never looked down my nose at it.”
Cara Winter writes in BETTIE!, “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 photographs 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.”