Photographer Thomas Holton is presenting his series The Lams of Ludlow Street at Hillwood Art Museum from September 12th to November 5th, 2011. The series is an essay of photos that follow an immigrant Chinese family living in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Following an electrical fire to the family’s building on Ludlow Street, the Lam’s moved into Red Cross housing, and temporarily reside there for only six months while the landlords and inspectors assess the building to see if it needs to be completely rebuilt, which may take years. Mr. Holton took photographs of the family from 2002-2005 as they struggled to live their lives in a limited space.
Thomas’ photographs are lined up neatly in a row on the wall. It’s hard to tell which photo is which due to the lack of ID tags directly under a particular photo, and may or may not be in chronological order, but nonetheless, they tell a story. Holton’s photographs are full of sensitivity, which he felt for the Lam’s throughout the 3 years he spent documenting their lives. Holton wanted to help the Lams by selling the photos he took of them for $175. In his “Untitled No. 5,” photographed in 2005, Holton captures Mrs. Lam in a supermarket. Everything is blurred out in the photo except for her face, giving movement to the photo. Mrs. Lam’s facial expression illustrates a line between concern and horror, allowing on-lookers a chance to interpret just what Mrs. Lam may be upset about.
Holton’s “Untitled No. 8,” depicts the bathtub in the Lam’s kitchen with a bouquet of roses inside. This particular photo grasps the attention of onlookers due to the contrast of the tub, which was once white and now dirtied, against the red roses. Although roses typically would not be placed where her children bathe, Mrs. Lam has found a way for her small, cluttered space to be special and decorative, and that is what The Lams of Ludlow Street is about—to make the most of every situation no matter how unfortunate.
In nearly every photo of Holton’s series, the color red is present. This type of hue provides a range of emotion from anger or sadness to love and passion. “Untitled No. 1” is a portrait of the Lam family with smiles on their faces and arms around each other gathered behind their kitchen table. Red can be seen in the clothing hanging from above their heads, within the chairs, and the bag probably used for trash. This hue reflects that love still exists regardless of an unsatisfying situation.
“Untitled No. 9,” a powerful picture of a red door up-close, is Thomas Holton’s brilliant depiction of mystery behind the Lam family. The texture of the door is rough and cracks are apparent, most likely signifying the internal state of the family that lives behind it. The only object not painted red in the photo is the peephole, which is white. Inside the hole is black with a tiny bit of light coming through, adding to the mystery of what may be going on behind the door.
Although the Lams are all smiles in “Untitled No. 1,” the father doesn’t seem to be smiling, or giving a forced smile. Again, in “Takeout” and “Untitled No. 10,” the father isn’t smiling and hiding behind a wall or a piece of clothing. There is a mystery, and Thomas Holton may or may not know what that is. Nonetheless, Holton invites us into the Lams’ world, revealing the severity of economic hardships. The times are hard, and families all over America are living the same way the Lams are living.