Bunny Yeager, the South Florida photographer whose provocative pinups and artful self-portraits helped redefine how America looked at sex, beauty and independent women, died Sunday at a hospital in North Miami. She was 85.

It was 60 years ago this month that Yeager took her first pictures of Bettie Page, the model and muse whose confident, sexually charged portraits, some of the best known shot in Key Biscayne and Boca Raton, left an indelible mark on art and fashion, from the pages of Playboy to museum walls.

Yeager, a Miami Beach resident who had a studio in North Miami and a gallery that opened last year in Wynwood, died at a time when appreciation for her work and cultural influence is at a high point.

“Bettie Page: Queens of Curves,” will be published by Rizzoli next month, pictures from Yeager’s current exhibit at the prestigious Gavlak Gallery on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach are headed for Art Basel later this year, and two days before her hospitalization this month she completed a photo shoot with 2011 Playboy Playmate of the Year Claire Sinclair at the Miami home of artist Carlos Betancourt for a June exhibit in Las Vegas.

“At the hospital, she was talking about her next shoot. She was excited, full of plans,” her agent, Ed Christin, said. “This time she just didn’t bounce back.”

Yeager succumbed of the effects of a chronic heart condition.

Gallery owner Sarah Gavlak calls Yeager a feminist hero who broke the tradition that positioned men behind the camera and women in front.

“She said, ‘I’m better at taking these pictures than men. I know how to photograph a woman’s body and make it look so much more beautiful,’” Gavlak said. “I’m not sure whether she wanted that role or was aware how important it was, but she was very brave and bold and ahead of her time.”

Born March 13, 1929, in the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg, Pa., Yeager moved to Miami in 1946, where she modeled and won more than 30 beauty pageants.

She met a then-unknown Page in Miami in 1954 and one of their initial shoots produced an iconic picture of the model by a Christmas tree wearing only a Santa hat that was soon published in a fledgling magazine called Playboy.

The two collaborated on many pictures that have become hallmarks of the pinup photography genre, including a series of Page in a leopard-print bikini flanked by two cheetahs at the Africa U.S.A. theme park in Boca Raton.

While men may have been pinning her pictures to walls, these images also exemplify the luminous lighting and the seamless blend of beauty and strength that are Yeager signatures.

“I’m not doing it to titillate anybody’s interests,” Yeager said in a conversation last year. “I want to show off how beautiful my subjects are, whether it’s a cheetah or a live girl or two of them together. That’s more important to me than anything.”