For nearly two decades, photographer Thomas Holton documented the life of a Chinese family living in New York City's Chinatown, resulting in The Lams of Ludlow Street, an important series about the Chinese American experience today.
On show at Home Gallery until 1 June (as well as virtually), the series began after Holton ﬁrst met the Lams, a family of ﬁve, in 2003. Back then, they lived in a 350-square-foot apartment on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Initially drawn to their tight living conditions, Holton's earlier photographs only really scratch the surface. Over time, he became part of the family, picking the kids up from school, and going on trips with them. He didn't always photograph them, but their gradual bond allowed for a more intimate and nuanced portrait of the entire family.
As you look through later chapters of the series, you'll see the family dynamics are different. The images were beyond that of a family struggling with their physical space or assimilation. We see that the children become teenagers, while the father struggles with consistent employment and a marriage that was dissolving. It quickly becomes apparent that Holton was telling a story of an "American family of Chinese descent rather than a simpliﬁed essay of a Chinese family living in America," as the Gallery puts it.
The exhibition in New York holds signiﬁcant importance because of its location and timing. While parts of this series have been exhibited in many museums and will be included in a group show at the National Portrait Gallery once it reopens, these images have never been so openly accessible to the very community that they speak to. Although representation of Asian Americans has improved since Holton began his series nearly 20 years ago, there has been a recent rise in anti-Asian attacks since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
"At a time when many young people in the neighbourhood are trying to ﬁnd their place and belonging in 2021 America, we hope these images can contribute to conversations within the community and to a larger dialogue," adds the Gallery.
Both Asian-American, Holton and Chan hope these images can contribute to conversations within the community and to a larger dialogue.
Curator William Chan has selected four images to be displayed one at a time in the single large window opening known as Home Gallery on Grand Street in Chinatown. Every two weeks until 1 June, passersby will discover a new photograph following a chronological order. Meanwhile, the Home Gallery website is hosting a virtual exhibition curated by the Lam children, adding their own perspective to the story.