Alice Austen of Staten Island, photographer

Alice Austen c1892
at Clear Comfort, Staten Island

Toronto. George Dunbar dropped me a note the other day about an early American woman photographer who was discovered by a wider audience only near the end of her life. Like Vivian Maier, she embraced photography as a hobby, but took her photographs more like a professional.

Austen lived a life of luxury in her parent’s estate, a vast mansion and grounds on Staten Island called Clear Comfort. Never marrying, she spent a life of leisure and photography in the company of friends until the market crash of 1929 when she was wiped out. Shown here at 75 years old, Austen died a pauper a year later in 1952.

A fine biography of her and her work was published in 1976. Called Alice’s World: The Life and Photography of an American Original, Alice Austen, 1866 – 1952, it was written by author Ann  Novotny. Austen made only about 7,000 glass plate negatives over her life-time, but they offer an insightful record of a life of wealth in the NYC area, and Staten Island in particular.

Just a year before her death, LIFE magazine did a seven page essay on Austen with many of her photographs in the September 24th, 1951 issue beginning on page 137 of that issue (by the way, you can read the entire issue on the above link courtesy of Google. Use the little dropdown menu – top right on my browser – which says Front Cover to link to the article on page 137 entitled “The Newly Discovered Picture World of Alice Austen” ).

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