Stacey Barich, Baltimore's own Bunny Yeager, shoots to thrill

This model has solid pins and is the real deal from head to high-heeled toe. Pop. In her head, she's a regular Betty Grable. Snap. Or Rita Hayworth. Click. In front of pinup photographer Stacey Barich's camera, she's whoever she wants to be-except for the regular woman who came through the front door a few hours ago.

The model, Giullia Matteo, an attractive mother of two, sits on the couch in the basement of Barich's Parkville home and readies herself for her next close-up as Barich talks about her love of pinup and her fondness for those pink-hued days that are long gone. ("Our Corsets, Our Selves," Feature, Jan. 2, 2008).

"For starters, I'm super-obsessed with anything vintage," says the 40-year-old photographer. "I'm into the '40s to the mid- to late '60s. The styling of that period was ahead of its time. Streamlined and elegant. I'm a child of the '70s. Talk about a hideous fucking decade. I grew up in a world of shag carpet."

Barich's basement is a mini Hollywood studio of tiki props, vintage clothing crammed on racks, and enough makeup to cover a Busby Berkeley musical bit.

"I think I have over a thousand outfits," Barich says. "I have too many fucking clothes." Looking at her extensive portfolio of robust women, it's not hard to see why she's attracted to an era that preached style over body type and poses over porn.

"To do [pinup] well, I had to be very well-versed in the details of the era," she says. "For me, the challenge was managing the details and being confident in a lot of things. . . . There's a fine line you skirt between [asking]: Are [the photos] too 'cheesecake-y,' 'softcore-y,' sweet sexuality, or have you crossed the line into something too overt for pinup?"

With its platinum-blond bombshells and lascivious redheads, American pinup art came into its own during World War II, when homesick soldiers were "pinning" up starlets like Grable, Hayworth, and Veronica Lake to their footlockers and painting them on the sides of bombers. Though bomber artists like Alberto Vargas and George Petty defined the war period in oils and feminine pastels, it was a female photographer of the 1950s who would rocket a bobbed brunette to fame and cause thousands of adolescent boys to finally put away their well-worn National Geographics in favor of a Tennessee woman in faux leopard skin.

Until about 1954, Linnea Eleanor Yeager, better known as Bunny Yeager, was an aspiring model herself. Then she, along with Irving Klaw, discovered Bettie Page. Page was known for her light kink shots in leather and grrrring it up in "jungle" wear like fake leopard pelts and skimpy zebra-print dresses.

Now, 50 years later, Stacey Barich has brought the fire of Yeager's Olympus to the working women of the mid-Atlantic region, who pay her to capture a time when they are young and pretty and still have the mischievous spark of their unofficial godmother, Bettie Page.

"I like the classy sexuality of pinups," says the 28-year-old Matteo, who is modeling today for a Natty Boh-themed shoot. "I think you can be really, really sexy without being slutty. I love it. I think it's great. I'm a '50s girl."

In her everyday life, Matteo is someone you might smile at on the street, but when she emerges from Barich's makeup station, you're going to break your neck whipping your head around to get a second and third and fourth look. Today, she pouts and poses in a dark one-piece with candy cane-striped arms and hot red heels. Her neck is highlighted by a bright-red swath of scarf that looks like it should be blowing in the wind on the Riviera from a top-down Alfa Romeo.

Barich and her subject decide on a particular look well before the day of the shoot. "The client and I talk first," says Barich from beneath the signature bangs that almost conceal a pair of dark, penciled eyebrows. "Today we're going for a delinquent look. Giullia wanted a [Natty] Boh theme, so I had her bring vintage cans with her. Good pinup is in the details."

Barich prefers her clients to be open-minded and ready to step outside of their comfort zone before getting in front of the camera.

"I try to book clients that aren't pigeonholed into a hardcore concept," Barich says. "It's easier to manage expectations that way. Say someone was dead-set on being a sailor. They try on all the sailor outfits and none of them look great on them. I'd rather find something they look and feel great in than stick to the theme."

During a four-hour session, Barich's Canon easily snaps hundreds of photos of two or three looks per client. She would love to use film, but it's too expensive, she says. The models stand in front of a wall of strobes filtered through massive softboxes to diffuse the harsh light.

In post-production, where she spends less than a half-hour per chosen photo, it's not unusual to take a little off the top. And sides. And hips.

"Taking a little off is expected," she says. "My guidelines for editing are pretty simple. I smooth things in the overall general appearance to get a better tone. Occasionally I'll tuck in a waist to gives them a better line. But I'm not going to change a size 16 to a size 8. No matter how much you beg."

Matteo agrees.

"I want to see myself naturally. I want that point of view. That's the point of pinup," Matteo says as she steps into a dressing area whose three panels are decorated by images of the dozens of pinup models who have preceded her. She closes a curtain, leaving visible only a bit of lace draped over a chair. Then it's gone.

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