Interior Lives: Contemporary Photographs of Chinese New Yorkers

01 October 2018

Exhibitions, Talks

Exhibition opens: 26th October 2018-24th March 2019. 


Documenting the city’s largest wave of Chinese immigration.

Interior Lives: Contemporary Photographs of Chinese New Yorkers, features the work of three photographers - Thomas Holton, Annie Ling, and An Rong Xu - who bring into focus the complex realities of Chinese-American immigrant life in the city. The exhibition is organized in conjunction with the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) exhibition Interior Lives: Photographs of Chinese Americans in the 1980s by Bud Glick.

“With more than half a million people of Chinese descent living in Manhattan’s Chinatown and other neighborhoods across the city,” said Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York, “New York is home to the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia. We’re honored to join MOCA in offering an intimate look into a significant community full of vastly diverse experiences.”

In the 1960s, significant policy changes in the United States and China opened a new chapter of Chinese migration. The number of immigrants from mainland China nearly doubled between 1980 and 1990, and again between 1990 and 2000. Over the last two decades, photographers Thomas Holton, Annie Ling, and An Rong Xu examined the complex relationship between these individuals and the places they live. Their work shines a light on a community of New Yorkers as they navigate, both privately and publicly, their place within the city.

Since 2003 Thomas Holton has followed the trajectory of a single family living in a 350-square-foot apartment on Ludlow Street, creating an increasingly personal body of work as his friendship with the family developed. From bright, busy meals to quiet moments of reflection, Holton captures the shifting landscape of growing up and growing apart. 

Annie Ling’s work began in 2011, when she spent over a year documenting the lives of the 35 residents of now-shuttered 81 Bowery—then one of the city’s few remaining lodging houses, offering makeshift rooms for as little as $100 a month. The hardworking men and women who lived there, aspirants of the American Dream, turned cramped cubicles into bedrooms and tiled hallways into kitchens and communal spaces. 

An Rong Xu, born in China and raised in New York City’s Chinatown, uses photography to explore Chinese-American identity, documenting the intersection of “two sometimes polarizing cultures.” Xu confronts the preconceptions and stereotypes assigned to Chinese-Americans by portraying the community as an integral part of the American landscape. His rich, cinematic work is rooted in the beauty of the ordinary, revealing often-hidden inner lives.

In the 1980s, the majority of Chinese immigrants to New York came from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China’s southern provinces, and settled in Chinatown. But in more recent years, both the origins and destinations of these immigrants have shifted, creating a multi-ethnic diaspora that spans all boroughs. Focusing on both this new wave of immigrants and the burgeoning first-generation population, Interior Lives offers a glimpse into the lives of contemporary Chinese New Yorkers—highlighting all that has and hasn’t changed over the past 40 years. 


Intimate Subjects: Thomas Holton and the Lams
Talk: 16th January 2019, 6:30pm–8:30pm 
In this intimate, behind-the-scenes look at Interior Lives, documentary photographer Thomas Holton sits down with several members of the Lam family, including Steven and Cindy Lam, both subjects featured in his series of photographs, "The Lams of Ludlow Street." Holton and the Lams will discuss their unique 15-year working relationship as photographer and subject in a conversation moderated by Nancy Yao Maasbach, president of the Museum of Chinese in America. Afterwards, explore the gallery in an exclusive after-hours viewing. 


Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St.



Picture copyright: Thomas Holton