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Alice Austen House exhibits rare street photographs

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The Alice Austen House, nestled in the heart of Rosebank, Staten Island has a lot of reasons for visiting: it is a charming museum overlooking Upper New York Bay which offers a window into life at the turn of the century, it attracts visitors form all five boroughs, it is handily located near the Staten Island Ferry, and it offers a chance to view rare exhibits in the house that maverick female photographer Alice Austen lived in for most of her life. Now on view is an exhibit of rare photographs by Alice Austen that hint at her eclectic and unusual life and the life of city streets depicted through her lens, added The Staten Island Advance today (April 30). Her photographs are available to view at The Alice Austen House Sunday through Thursday from noon to 5 p.m. Suggested donation is $2.

"Between 1894 and 1896, Alice Austen (1866-1952), the early photographer, launched a project far out of her usual comfort zone. She loaded her bicycle with 50 lbs. of equipment, rode from Rosebank to St. George, boarded the ferry and pedaled into the immigrant enclaves and market blocks of lower Manhattan, places like Hester Street and the Fulton Fish Market. There she photographed tenement women buying eggs, organ grinders, street-sweepers, deliverymen, newsboys and newsgirls," added Michael Fressola, columnist for The Staten Island Advance in an article that appeared on today.

"This was new territory for the photographer, who was sufficiently well-heeled so that she required neither a job nor a marriage. Previously she was far more likely to shoot her circle of relatives and friends and their activities — tennis and tea, regattas and picnics, house parties," added Fressola.

"She eventually published 12 of her city life images as "Street Types of New York," a set of photograph reproductions. It may have been a souvenir for tourists," added SI Live.

"The photographs, last shown at the museum in 1994, and now re-installed, alongside others in the same vein, have the expected Austen hallmarks: They are well-managed and sunny, balanced and informative. Austen didn't shoot the life of the street as it unfolded. She posed it and re-organized it, much as she would shoot anything or anyone else," added Fressola in SI Live.

"She shot a self-possessed young deliveryman with his bicycle on a newly street-swept 30th Street, near Broadway. A billboard in the distance advertises "Waverly Bicycles." In another photograph, a housewife in an open-air market is smiling broadly at her, at the photographer," added Fressola. "She said something amusing? Or was the subject simply reacting to odd spectacle of a well-dressed lady wrangling her cumbersome photographic equipment?"

"A little further uptown, at Seventh and 48th Street, an organ grinder and his wife posed for her with friendly, smiles. They are noticeably shabby, but they don't look at all bereft or hopeless. There are no abject types or sad-looking situations "Street Types;" even the young newspaper peddlers seem OK. It's worth noting that immigrant-quarter horrors like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911 were 15 years away," adds Fressola.

"Unlike the photographer's regular subjects, "Street Types" raises more questions than it answers. The most obvious: Ladies like Austen simply did not explore the city's teeming tenement district, on a bicycle, no less, with cameras or not," according to the reporter in SI Live.

For more about this exhibit of rare photographs visit This is one exhibit Staten Island photography fans and historians will not want to miss!

street sweeper
street sweeper Alice Austen in Staten Island Advance

street sweeper

These rare glimpses of street life in New York City were taken from the lens of Alice Austen as the pioneering female photographer rode her bicycle in the streets of Manhattan. This street sweeper gives a rare glimpse at the dying art of street sweeping.

Read all about it
Read all about it Alice Austen in The Staten Island Advance

Read all about it

This look at a paper boy in Manhattan shows the newsies of reality not of the Disney musical.  Alice Austen showed the paper delivery boy in early morning as she passed by on her bicycle and snapped this photograph from her camera.

boys on city streets
boys on city streets Alice Austen for The Staten Island Advance

boys on city streets

These young boys carrying their lunch boxes and parcels perfectly depict school boys in Manhattan taken from her bicycle as she (Alice Austen) traveled the streets of Manhattan in search for truth through photography. 

city couple
city couple Alice Austen in The Staten Island Advance

city couple

These bicyclists walking on city streets were photographed by Alice Austen,, probably without permission. The organ grinder in the couple looks angry and his wife looks surprised. They show through their expressions disdain for photography and the art form of taking pictures. Many in the turn-of-the-century felt that if photographed the camera would steal their souls. There was general mistrust for the medium in Alice Austen's day.

Mail carrier
Mail carrier Alice Austen for The Staten Island Advance

Mail carrier

A mail carrier is delivering the mail to residences in Manhattan. The man is properly dressed as a mail carrier of the day and perfectly captures the belief at that time that the mail must be carried during snow, sleet, rain and all kinds of weather.