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Habitat 7

Four of the earliest major civilizations were formed in river valleys: Egypt on the Nile, China on the Huang He and Yangtze, India on the Indus and Ganges, and Mesopotamia on the Tigris and Euphrates. The fertile lands along these rivers provided surpluses of food and the river passages advanced trade routes, spawning the growth of populations, development of cities, and evolution of society.


We presently live in a complex industrial and technological era, yet our quest for living space still resembles that of the ancient river valley civilizations. Our survival is dependent on the availability of and proximity to resources, as well as networks of communication. Such is the premise of the 7 Train, the seven mile-long subway line that connects New York City’s Times Square with seven communities in northwest Queens, the most ethnically diverse county in the United States.


On a smaller but equally complex scale, some of the distinctive characteristics of an evolved civilization are evident in the communities that have developed along the tracks of the 7 Train. Its route interweaves the intricate and highly organized symbols of society including elaborate forms of economic exchange, as well as sophisticated, formal social institutions such as organized religion, education, and the arts. The rich microcosm along the 7 consists of more than 150 immigrant communities.


Taiwanese photographer Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao (b. 1977) has lived along the 7 Train since 1999. Beginning in 2004, Liao set out to photograph the ‘habitat’ of the 7, focusing on the people as a whole and their relationship with their environment. Gaining access to various sites along the 7 Train, Liao photographed his environs with a large format camera and then seamed multiple negatives together to form each image. His series emits the vibrancy and intensity of diverse communities coexisting in contemporary society.


Located at the mouth of the Hudson River, New York City is home to more than 8,000,000 individuals of varying ethnicities. The largest populations per borough are in Queens and Brooklyn, yet the smaller but more densely populated Manhattan is known as the city’s epicenter. At the heart of Manhattan is Times Square, a celebrated symbol of commercial success and economic vibrancy.


Depending on one's perspective, the "7" Train (IRT) either begins or terminates in Times Square. At the opposite end of the 7 Line in Flushing, immigrant communities flourish.


The 7 Train is nicknamed "The International Express" by the Department of City Planning because of the immigrant settlement patterns along its route. Built mostly by immigrant laborers in the early 1900s, the 7 was intended, in part, to redistribute the large number of foreign-born individuals living in crowded tenements in Manhattan's Lower East Side.Today, approximately 36% of NYC's population is foreign-born; many immigrants move to Queens, seeking a better quality of life than Manhattan can provide.


sources: US Census Bureau, 2000; “The International Express: Around the World on the 7 Train” The Queens Tribune web site:


This exhibition is organized in partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


8 March - 20 April, 2008


Houston Center for Photography for FotoFest 2008

Artist / Photographer

Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao


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