At Inhabitat, we’re all about downsizing to smaller spaces, but for many people, tiny living is less of a choice and more often a painful and necessary part of life. Photographer Annie Ling has captured this unfortunate reality in her photos of 81 Bowery, where Chinese immigrant laborers were housed in 64-square-foot cubicles. In addition to three other series that showcased everyday life in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Ling’s 81 Bowery photographs were recently displayed at the Museum of Chinese in America.

Until 81 Bowery was shut down last year, the New York City tenement building was home to a generation of Chinese laborers and provided lodgers with 8-by-8 cubicle homes for just $100 to $200 a month. “Because many Chinese immigrant laborers like Chu (depicted in Cubicle #4) live on very little and send most of their earnings to family members in China or distant cities, at the end of the day these breadwinners forfeit a real relationship with their wives, children, mothers, and fathers,” says Ling.

Related: Hong Kong’s Shocking 40-Square-Foot Apartments Photographed by Chinese Human Rights Group

Although Ling’s photographs highlight the pain and struggle of everyday life for the immigrants, she also manages to capture their resourcefulness and sense of community. Her work has even been described by the New York Times as a contemporary version of documentary photographer Jacob Riis’ exposé journalism. And although it is heartbreaking to see pictures of the elderly living in these spaces, 81 Bowery had provided a tight-knit community and crucial support system. The March 2013 crackdown, says Ling to the Ochberg Society, scattered the bewildered tenants, who are “desperate to return to their home on the Bowery.”

+ Annie Ling

Via NY Curbed

Images via Annie Ling