“Street types” shot by a pioneering photographer

Born into a well-to-do Staten Island family in 1866, Alice Austen found her life’s passion after her sea captain uncle brought back a camera from his travels.


[Street Musicians, 1896]

At 10 years old, she began taking photos, and by 18 was carrying around a heavy trunk filled with equipment, chronicling social events, family gatherings, and parties.

By the 1890s she was bringing her camera to Manhattan, where she “photographed the newly arriving immigrants and older residents as they went about their business,” states the website for Staten Island’s Alice Austen House, which preserves her home and legacy.


[Bike Messenger, 1892]

“Alice always photographed the people and places of her world as they actually appeared, giving us a beautiful visual window on 19th century America.”

She collected many of these photos in “Street Types of New York City,” an 1896 portfolio of images of peddlers, salesman, and other workers as she encountered them on city streets. She continued taking photos through her life; over 3,500 survive.


[Hester Street Egg Stand Group, 1896]

Austen’s comfortable life imploded after the stock market crash of 1929. For the remaining decades of her life, she and her companion, Gertrude Tate, lived in poverty.

Just before her death in 1952, her work finally received notoriety, and in the decades since, her standing as a pioneering female photographer of the beautiful and rich as well as the poor and struggling has continued to grow.


[Suspender Salesman; 1896]

The Alice Austen House recently ended an exhibit of her street photography. But the house continues to promote her reputation as an artist and early female photographer.

[All photos copyright Alice Austen House]

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7 Responses to ““Street types” shot by a pioneering photographer”

  1. Edward Says:

    Alice Austen took some amazing photos. The ones above are a treasure trove of 19th Century NYC. History/photog buffs should definitely take a trip to her house on Staten Island, which itself is a gorgeous artifact, having been originally built in the 1690s and remodeled a few times over the years. It’s a short bus ride from the Staten Island Ferry, and you may even ride the “Alice Austen” ferryboat named after the illustrious photographer!


  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I’m making sure I get out there before summer ends. Her photos, and her life, are fascinating.

  3. Bob_in_MA Says:

    Another great find, thanks!

  4. Liza Says:

    Alice was so amazing. Here’s an article I wrote about her decades ago.


  5. ledamato Says:

    Thank you for this! I’m visiting the house ASAP!

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    […] New York still needed horses to cart away trash and ashes, now kept curbside in barrels, as this 1897 Alice Austen photo […]

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    […] was the rare female news photographer in a field dominated by men—partly because journalism was generally closed to […]

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