Exterior street views of people of various occupations in New York City including policemen, postmen, street cleaners, messengers, vendors, peddlers, hansom cab drivers, bootblacks, newspaper vendors, and organ grinders, among others. Also included are parade scenes and spectators, immigrants, fire trucks, ash and rag carts, and scenes from residential and commercial streets in Manhattan.
Ownership: Romana Javitz Collection, Transferred from the Picture Collection 1991
Statement of responsibility: Alice Austen.
Biographical/historical: Elizabeth Alice Austen (1866-1952) was the privileged daughter of a prominent Staten Island family. She took up photography at age ten. The Library's holding consists of Austen's 1896 camera record of Manhattan street scenes and street types, which is very unusual in American photography of the period, as it is in Austen's work, for she never again systematically photographed the world outside her own social sphere. Although Austen never worked professionally as a photographer, she always strove for professional standards. As a result, her pictures of her home life and her social contemporaries and their daily activities provide a rich and intimate vision of a now-vanished way of life (not held by NYPL).
The stock market crash of 1929 left Austen destitute. By 1945, failing health forced her to abandon her life-long home, the 17th-century house "Clear Comfort" on Staten Island facing New York harbor. Before an antique dealer purchased the last of her furnishings, she donated her photographic negatives to the Staten Island Historical Society. There they were rediscovered in 1950, and then published prominently in national magazines. At an exhibition of her rescued work the following year, Austen reportedly observed, "I am happy that what was once so much pleasure for me turns out now to be a pleasure for other people." These NYC prints form part of the Romana Javitz Collection, a special group of photographs assembled by, and now named for, the pioneering head of the Branch Libraries' Picture Collection.