In 1877, at the age of 11, Austen received a camera from her uncle. She was immediately mesmerized by this new invention, and spent the next 40 years capturing some 8,000 images. She was often seen riding her bicycle around Staten Island and Manhattan, carrying almost 50 pounds of photographic equipment. Austen is best known for her street photography: photos of immigrants just off the boats from Ellis Island, street sweepers hard at work, postmen, bootblacks, and fishmongers. Her photographs bear witness to a strong aesthetic eye: she knew how to compose an image, what to include and leave out. Her artistic talents are evident in her photographs of nature, which were influenced by 19th-century ideas of nature as holder of both beauty and spirit.
In 1975, recognizing the importance of Alice Austen to New York's history, the City purchased the House and restored it and the grounds to their 19th-century appearance. Today, Clear Comfort operates as a museum, featuring exhibits of Austen's work and contemporary photography as well as period rooms that have been recreated based on photographs.
A National Historic Landmark, the House was inducted in 2002 into the National Trust for Historic Preservation's highly selective group of Historic Artists' Homes and Studios. Alice Austen House Museum is owned by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, operated by the Friends of Alice Austen Inc., and is a member of the Historic House Trust.