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(New York Times)|
When Thomas Holton began visiting the Lam family in 2003, he was struck by how much life they fit inside their 350-square-foot apartment on Ludlow Street in Manhattan. Three small children, their parents, relatives and friends, a bathtub in the kitchen, with clothes racks above the table. It was a jumble that fascinated him for its grit, warmth and can-do optimism.
But as Mr. Holton got to know the Lams, he became less interested in their square-foot compromises and more intrigued with them as individuals, not only as immigrants. “It became much more a story about any family,” said Mr. Holton, 42. “It didn’t matter that they were Chinese. It became much more about life in general and the dynamics of a family.”
He photographed the Lams from 2003 to 2005, earning some acclaim, and he continued to visit them frequently. Over the years, he began to notice subtle shifts as the children grew older and the parents’ struggles in New York took a toll. In 2010, he decided it was time to shoot pictures of the family again.
Mr. Holton’s new photographs of the Lams depict more weariness than optimism. What once looked like an adventure now looks like a burden. Michael, 15, the oldest son and a sophomore at Stuyvesant High School, is weighed down by his homework and household chores. His father, Steven – who was unemployed for a stretch in recent years but now has a job – is often captured alone and pensive. Shirley, who used to care full-time for her children, now works long hours outside the home caring for an elderly woman.
Life has become harder and lonelier, and the cramped quarters feel ever tighter.
“There’s a tension sometimes you can’t air out because it’s so tight,” Mr. Holton said.
The new photographs are unflinching, and perhaps even more intimate, even if they are, as Mr. Holton calls them, “a little heavier in tone.”
“I tried to capture the new reality,” he said. “Life is messy.”