Friday, June 15, 2007
Jeff Liao - Broadway To Queens
Jeff Liao's remarkable exhibition, Habitat 7, takes us on a visual journey through the diversity of humanity that comprises the fabric of America
Taiwan To NYC
Born in Taiwan, Liao is the offspring of educators—his mother is a teacher and his father is a school principal. His parents understood early on that their son's interests didn't include academics. Liao moved to Canada to attend high school and then to New York City in 1999, where he settled in Queens, the most culturally diverse of New York's five boroughs.
Liao came to New York to study photography because of the Pratt Institute and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Pratt appealed to him because it teaches the Bauhaus design system, where one studies drawing and sculpture before studying photography.
Says Liao, “When you draw something, you see more things than when you just take a picture. I wanted to be Ansel Adams and make cool black-and-white images. I tried to do something similar to him, but when I came to New York I looked around and didn't know what to shoot—no stones, no mountains, no lake. It was then that I started thinking about working in a different way. I worked briefly for the Polaroid Studio in New York, working with a 20x24-inch Polaroid camera that weighed 240 pounds.”
After pushing that camera around, the 8x10 didn't seem so bad to Liao. All in all, 70 pounds of equipment, 10 pounds of camera, plus a tripod is “very compact compared to the 20x24-inch Polaroid,” recalls Liao.
Maybe for a veteran 20x24 photographer, 8x10 camera equipment seems compact, but when Liao was granted permission to photograph Queens from the top of the Citibank Building as part of the Habitat 7 series, and he was without an assistant in blowing wind and a temperature of 20 degrees F, the gear seemed heavy. The Citibank Building is the “Empire State Building” of Queens. Wherever Liao went, he could see that building; he wanted to make a picture of civilization as a river, and the higher location was just what he needed.
After a tricky process to get permission to shoot from the top of Citibank, Liao took a whole day, the only day he was given, to scan the 360-degree view. He had found his river, but because the opportunity to photograph it was so rare, he had to shoot everything in a single day. He shot more than 50 transparencies because he knew he wouldn't have the chance to do it again.
Afterward, Liao scanned his 8x10 Kodak Ektachromes on a drum scanner and then took his time to composite the aerial image exactly as he wanted it. Sitting in front of his computer screen, he decided which person to take out and which to put in. He moved cars. He moved signs. He rearranged reality within the realistic 360-degree view until it was visually satisfying to his own eye. Then, he output the images on an Epson printer. The results were stunning.
At 25, Jeff Liao can't have a lot of history behind him, but it seems certain that his vision and tenacity will ensure a future that we'll share with him for many years to come.
“I'm waiting for Epson to make a 72-inch printer so I can go bigger,” says Liao with a smile.
To see more of Jeff Liao's photography, visit www.jeffliao.com.
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