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Vintage Friday: Alice Austen Photographs

For the first installment of PhotoForward’s “Vintage Friday” series, I thought it appropriate to feature Alice Austen—a pioneering female photographer who bucked Victorian customs, traveled extensively and captured about 8,000 photographs during her lifetime (1866-1952).

A curated portion of Austen’s photographs will be on display in the exhibit, alongside other works from contemporary photographers who have followed in her spirit of capturing the street.  “The New Street Types of New York” opens tomorrow at the Alice Austen House, a Victorian Gothic cottage-turned-museum in Staten Island where Austen lived for much of her life. (The exhibit and glimpse into Austen’s life was also featured in The New York Times Lens blog this week.)

An organ grinder and his wife at 48th Street & 7th Avenue, New York. © Alice Austen

An organ grinder and his wife at 48th Street & 7th Avenue, New York circa 1896. From “The Street Types of New York,” © Alice Austen

Introduced to photography by her sea captain uncle when she was 10 years old, Austen was a competent photographer by age 18, and carried her photo gear to many travel destinations. As her biography on the Austen House website states, “Weighing as much as fifty pounds and sometimes filling a steamer trunk [gear] included cameras of different sizes, a tripod, magnesium flash attachment, and glass plates as big as eight by ten inches. In a horse-drawn buggy in the 1880′s and 1890′s, she carried her equipment around the unpaved roads of Staten Island…to Midland Beach, South Beach, to winter skating parties on the Island’s frozen ponds and creeks and private parties at the homes of friends.”

An egg stand on Hester Street in Manhattan. April 18, 1895. From "The Street Types of New York," © Alice Austen

An egg stand on Hester Street in Manhattan. April 18, 1895. From “The Street Types of New York,” © Alice Austen

Austen’s favorite subjects were her many friends, tennis matches and spectators (she loved the sport), and later, denizens and workers of the streets of New York. She never married, but lived with companion Gertrude Tate for 32 years.

A hansom cab at Union Square, Manhattan. © Alice Austen

A hansom cab at Union Square, Manhattan circa 1896. From “The Street Types of New York,” © Alice Austen

Reading more about Austen’s life reveals her sense of adventure, youthful spirit and willingness to take chances, both in her art and her life. The exhibit is open through September 28.

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Jessica Gordon

Jessica Gordon

Jessica Gordon loves discovering new photographers, and learning about historic image-makers who’ve helped evolved the craft. As managing editor for Rangefinder magazine, she’s passionate about clever copy and great design. On the weekends, you can find her biking around Brooklyn and downward dogging in yoga.

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