History of Pin-Up Photography in America

Most people are familiar with the term pin-up. We’ve seen them on old bomber nose art from World War II, in old Playboy magazines that belong to our fathers, tattooed on the forearm of a veteran, and plastered on novelty items. They feature beautiful women with a cute and innocent expression that reminds us of the American Dream.

The term pin-up first originated in 1941. There was a huge surge of popularity once WWII broke out from the US wanting to send images to the G.I.s, so they know what they were fighting for – that wholesome American girl. Calendars and magazines flooded the troops and our guys would tear out the pages and “pin-up” the girls everywhere they could, from the barracks to tanks, and paint them on fighter planes. Thus a tradition was started.

But pin-ups didn’t always start out that way. And they have continued to evolve in the modern era.

There are countless books, blogs, articles on the history of pin-ups. Each one takes a new approach to describing our fascination with this niche of the female beauty. Likewise, there are just as many different types of pin-ups; from painted illustrations, elaborate digital art, line drawings, and photographs, there are endless ways to show off the pin-up form. This series of blog posts is a little bit different. Instead of looking at the pin-up genre as a whole, we’ll be focusing on the photography portion of the pin-up world. Specifically, we’ll be looking at how pin-up photography originated and evolved over the last 150+ years in America. To do this we’ll look at the social, political, and technological advances and restrictions that helped shape the pin-ups we see every day.

My name is Chris Wooley, and I’m a professional photographer that specializes in recreating vintage pin-up and Hollywood glamour images. The idea for this project started with me wanting to know as much as I could about the pin-up genre and starting some research. With lots of help from my friends, a talented make-up artist, and tons of models, it spawned an idea of re-creating a pin-up from every decade as accurately as possible, complete with clothing, dress, hair, make-up, and style of the period. Each shot from the following sequence was taken in Spokane, Wash., in digital format with the final goal of producing an image that appeared to come from the corresponding decade.

Please join me on this journey into the History of Pin-Up.

Chris Wooley

1850s Pin-Up The Beginning