Chinatown: One family’s big life in a small New York apartment

Based in New York City, photographer Thomas Holton has spent 13 years documenting the life of the Lam family. Upon meeting Steven and Shirley Lam and their New York-born children, Michael, Franklin and Cindy, in their 350-square-foot tenement on Ludlow Street in Chinatown, Holton was instantly intrigued by their life. He asked to photograph the family, and they agreed.

 Family Portrait

Family Portrait

Over the years, Holton got to know the Lams closely; he traveled with them to Hong Kong, watched the children grow up and leave home, and witnessed Steven and Shirley’s divorce. The result of this incredible partnership is his ambitious photo series The Lams of Ludlow.

Holton, whose mother is Chinese and father is American, used the project as a part of MFA. He saw this as an opportunity to explore his own identity as a Chinese-American. Holton has said that when he began to photograph the Lams, he “started to understand the Chinatown family I never had.”

Speaking to Aerostorie, Holton says that he has watched Ludlow become increasingly more gentrified. He also watched the family change, and his own technique develop.

“As I got to know the Lams better, I began to pay more attention to their family dynamics and personalities. My photographs definitely changed and became more subtle and nuanced as I began to pay attention to smaller, quieter moments,” he says.

Across this slow process, Holton has also learned about the way he views the world. His work with the Lams’ has taught him a powerful lesson.

“I have come to realize that we're all unique individuals and that life is often quite messy. I started off wanted to understand what life was like in Chinatown but I discovered that regardless of your physical location, life is not so easily scripted,” he says.

 A Pause At Dinner

A Pause At Dinner

 Bath Time

Bath Time

 Chinese Soap Opera

Chinese Soap Opera

 Bored

Bored

 College Orientation

College Orientation

 Dinner For Seven

Dinner For Seven

 Five Days Before College

Five Days Before College

 Drying Laundry

Drying Laundry

 Flowers In The Tub

Flowers In The Tub

 Ex-Boyfriend

Ex-Boyfriend

 Front Door

Front Door

 Home From College

Home From College

 Leftovers

Leftovers

 Make-Up

Make-Up

 Michael On The Upper Bunk

Michael On The Upper Bunk

 Online At A Friend's

Online At A Friend's

 New Jersey Apartment

New Jersey Apartment

 Spring Break

Spring Break

 Papaya

Papaya

 Super Girl

Super Girl

 Steven's Walk In Closet

Steven's Walk In Closet

 Waiting For Dinner

Waiting For Dinner