Thursday, June 16, 2011

The "First Lady" of Photography

One of the things I love best about visiting Blogland are all the beautiful photos.  I am amazed at the talent that is out there.  I took my first photography class last Saturday, at the Alice Austen House, a museum on Staten Island, New York. 

Alice Austen was a photographer who documented life in New York City, photographed the immigrants as they arrived from different parts of the world, and took photos while the immigrants were in the quarantine station.  She did this at great personal risk to herself, as she was subject to diseases like tuberculosis.  Alice was never recognized as a fine art photographer until the last ten years.  Nor was she paid.  She took over 8,000 images, which seems like a small amount when you think that dedicated amateur photographers, and certainly professional ones, can take 1000 photos at one shoot!  But negatives back in those early days were 8 inches by 10 inches, and she carried around 50 pounds of equipment.  Her Uncle Oswald, a sea captain, brought back her first camera when she was 11 years old in 1877.

Alice Austen, age 3
Here are some of the photos of house.  It was built in 1690 as a one-room farm house.  Renovations took place throughout the 1700's.  It was purchased by Alice's grandfather  in 1844.  It was was called "Clear Comfort" by the family.

The front porch
Staircase to 2nd floor at rear of house
The interior is exactly the way it was when Alice and her family lived here.  In 1929, as a result of the stock market crash, Alice lost the property and was forced to live in a poorhouse.  When her photos were discovered, and their value realized, she was able to live in a decent retirement home.  She died at age 86.  She was the first woman on Staten Island to own a car.

Alice as a young adult

Photos in the entry hall
Piano in the parlor

Alice's camera in the parlor
the dining room

The rug in the dining room is over 100 years old, and the room is closed to the public.  I peeked in through the doorway.

I had to snap this door, look how low the door knob is!  Folks were much teenier then.

Here are some shots around the property. 

It was a hazy, actually quite foggy day.  That is the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the Brooklyn end of the span.

Believe it or not, off across the bay, is the island of Manhattan, barely visible through the thick fog.

These roses smelled incredible.  In 1975, the City of New York purchased the home  and restored it to its 19th century appearance.  The NYC Parks Dept. maintains the ground, as well as volunteers. 

If you would like to learn more, or take a virtual tour of the Alice Austen House, click here.  In 1973,  it was declared a National Historic Landmark.  In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation inducted the Austen House into the Historic Artists' Homes and Studios.  Other members include Georgia O'Keeffe and Jackson Pollock.

This is probably one of the longest posts I have done so far.   I did enjoy walking around and snapping away.  And I wanted to share it with you, some of the finest photographers I know! 

I will be joining Seasonal Sundays at The Tablescaper.



  1. It looks like you had a very interesting day! Love the name "Clear Comfort", sad that they lost the house though. Thanks for sharing:@)

  2. Hello Barbara:
    This has been absolutely fascinating. How wonderful to have attended a photography course at a place which in so many ways is at the very centre of photographic history.

    To our shame we had not heard of Alice Austen, but what a pioneering spirit she had in spite of so many drawbacks.

    This has been an inspiring post and no doubt you came away from the course filled with exciting ideas and photography projects for the future.

  3. Well done Barbara!! Your flower shots are gorgeous. I really love this house/museum; it reminds me of an English cottage. It's just charming! Thanks for sharing this story -- I hadn't heard of this photographer before. How great that she was such a pioneer in the field of photography!

    My husband takes most of the photos for my blog posts. He has the better camera. I am learning to use our older digital camera. It has some nice lenses and attachments, but I need lots more practice.


    Denise at Forest Manor

  4. Very intresting post! Your photos are great Barbara!
    I can undertand why this house is a National Historic Landmark. I often wish I could take a photography course. I'm sure you will enjoy this; keeep us posted.

  5. Hi, Barbara!!!
    Oh, thank you for sharing about her life☆☆☆
    I never heard of this wonderful lady. I will click your link and I opened her page of Wikipedia. I wonder how she felt when she was given the precious gift from her uncle, and also wonder how she managed to use it! Amazing lady, isn't she?

    Well, you said you took your first photography class. Is it only for uploading pics in here? Haha,I didn't mean to ply^^;)
    To tell the truth, I'm seriously troubled over my poor pictures.... I had no interest in taking pictures before. Now I need to do it and want to do it better♫

    I admire your forward-looking attitudes with lots of interests!!!

    TTFN, Love, xoxo Orchid.

  6. One of my favorite pastimes is visiting historical houses and learning not only about the house but the people who lived there. This was great.

    I had never heard of her and really enjoyed this post.

  7. Thanks so much for the Alice Austen tour. I enjoyed learning about her. Your photos are fantastic! Alice would sure be proud!

  8. Beautiful photos Barbara! I would love to take a photography class. of course I would love to have a nicer camera too.

  9. She sounds like a wonderful woman...with strong muscles.

    Taking a photography class is on my To Do List.

  10. Hi everyone, thanks for your nice comments! I fixed my link at the end of the post as I had a typo. I apologize for any confusion. xo,

  11. I love the photos. They came out beautiful.

  12. wow GREAT job!! Nice history lesson too.

  13. This was a wonderful post, Barabra! Brava for working so hard on it, as I know how long it takes to drop all those photos in a post!

    I really enjoyed learning about Alice Austen and her house/museum. I never knew about her and now I want to visit!

    I also loved seeing the Verranzano and Brooklyn from this perspective!

    Did you enjoy the photography lesson? There is so much to learn, so little time.

  14. Thanks for the tour. looks like a neat place. Happy Day! Richard at My Old Historic House

  15. That was really interesting and I loved your photos. It must have been wonderful to be in a place with such history! Great post!

  16. What a pretty house...know you enjoyed all this. Gosh, how sad that they lost the house and lived in the poor house....(just what is a poor house, anyway? I think I am livin' in it....:)))

  17. This is fabulous! I loved every bit of it. Poor Alice, to have to move into a poor house after living in such a quaint home with gorgeous yard and view.

    Good for you, stepping out there and taking photography classes. Maybe someday...

    Blessings, Debbie

  18. Yay a lovely new blog to follow!

  19. I've heard of Alice Austen, but never knew who she was. The house looks great. Definitely a place to put on my ever-growing "to visit" list. Your flower pictures are lovely!
    The post about our field trip to HomeGoods will be posted on Monday. It was really fun!

  20. A wonderful post. Your photos are so pretty. Love the story you shared with us.. Many Blessings, Marlis

  21. What a wonderful post. I've been to Staten Island many times, but have never seen it from this perspective. Just beautiful. I must revisit. Thanks for being a part of Seasonal Sundays.

    - The Tablescaper

  22. What a wonderful post. I didn't know any of this. You've enlightened us all! ~ Sarah

  23. I would say you are doing well with your photography skills.
    What a great place to take any sort of class. I enjoy historic places and a peek into past lives.

  24. Lovely post about the Austen House. I learned a lot! Looks like you enjoyed your first photography class! Good for you!

  25. As many times as I have explored the NYC area this is new to me so I thoroughly enjoyed being introduced to a new place. Good for you for working to improve your photography skills.

  26. Love the story! Thank you for sharing :D

  27. That was such an interesting read. It sounds like she was ahead of her time.


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