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