Alice Austen, The Darned Club, 1891. Alice Austen Photograph Collection. Courtesy of the Staten Island Historical Society.
By all accounts, photographer Alice Austen was an extraordinary woman. Born into an affluent family on Staten Island in 1866, she challenged oppressive Victorian conventions by embracing individuality and independence.
Austen roamed around turn-of-the-century New York with camera in hand, capturing street vendors and immigrants. She worked from moving trains and sporting events, creating early action shots, and obsessively recorded the activities of friends and family, as well as her own life. Unafraid to climb a fence post (and risk exposing her ankles) to get the perfect shot, Austen produced roughly 8,000 photographs in her lifetime. In doing so, she helped to pioneer documentary photography.