Alice Austen (1866-1952), photographer
Alice Austen House
Late Summer bathers at the Clifton Bathhouse
Photograph by Alice Austen. Photographs Courtesy of Friends of Alice Austen House, Inc.
This two-story Victorian cottage-style house was the residence of photographer Alice Austen for 78 years. Known as Clear Comfort, the home's simple elegance, extensive ocean-views and pastoral surroundings provided Austen with the subjects and social conditions needed to later establish her as the earliest American woman of importance in the field of photography. Austen developed all seven thousand of her photographs in Clear Comfort's darkroom, and her detailed pictorials of the home were essential to the home's eventual restoration.
Austen's work challenged Victorian traditions while providing examples of everyday society in late 19th and early 20th century America.
Austen's work often mocked Victorian mores by dressing female subjects in men's clothing and even showing women smoking in public--an illegal act during the Victorian age. Her photography captured more common experiences than other photographers' work, and her photos were often displayed in prominent shows. Her series on the quarantine facilities for immigrants on Staten Island was exhibited at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.
Despite her fame, the Great Depression brought financial hardship and Austen began to drift into obscurity. Although the Staten Island Historical Society saved much of her work, Austen was forced to sell almost half of her photos and by the late 1940s, she was destitute. The 1950 re-discovery of Austen's work at the Historical Society led to the lasting establishment of her artistic significance.
The Alice Austen House, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 2 Hylen Blvd. in Rosebank on Staten Island. The property is a house museum open to the public March through December, Thursday through Sunday, from 12noon to 5pm. Call 718-816-4506 for more information.
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