More Than a Photograph: Jim Mortram’s ‘Small Town Inertia’

The camera records not only images, but stories, in Jim Mortram’s work

Jim Mortram, an innovative contemporary artist, is creating a stir online with his project Small Town Inertia. In this special project, Mortram undertakes a deeply personal study of life in this small town near his home in East Anglia. This project consists of a selection of photographic snapshots, accompanied by a brief and personal story about the person in the photo which provides a doorway into the lives of these individuals. These stories never fail to have a particular importance and gravity to them, as Mortram has the special gift of being able to bring to the artistic surface stories about the individual which are deeply personal and emotional.

The expression ‘a picture tells 1000 words’ is a very appropriate way of describing Mortram’s work and how moving it is.

I find the project very interesting. It appeals to all, regardless of whether your interest lies in art, photography, or the stories behind the photo, as what Mortram does here is a study of human life, rather than just photographs. Mortram is successful in turning these pictures into highly moving pieces of art, having turned his photographic ideas from photography into a unique and special artistic-anthropological project. Rather than embarking on an art for art’s sake photographic enterprise, Mortram appears to want to actually capture people’s stories and to understand the individual, the end result being that these powerful photos reach right in to the heart of the person in the photograph. Over a period of time, and continuous studies of each individual by the artist, the viewer feels as though they are building up an understanding, a relationship of sorts, with the person in the photo. We are able to gain a special, personal insight into the life of each person, which ignites feelings of sympathy, joy and sadness. For this reason this project is certainly unique in style, and very interesting to follow.

The way Mortram manages to pick out such special details within each person’s life has a strong emotional effect on the viewer as it prompts us to reflect on ourselves and the individuals around us. It reminds us that behind the facade, everyone has their own individual struggles. In life, happiness is often combined with sadness, and everyone is fighting their own little battle in some way or another, and this project reminds me of how we should not to be too quick to judge someone simply from their appearance. Furthermore, the artist aims to remind us of the importance of listening to others, something we are quick to avoid in busy modern-day life, and that everyone has an interesting story to tell behind their outward appearance. This is summed up nicely by a quote from the artist:

“be nice, be attentive, give a damn, listen.”

A case study of his which is of particular interest to me is that of the case of David. David is a man who lost his eyesight in an accident, leaving him completely dependent on his mother, until the day she was gone. Mortram documented this story through his photos, regularly visiting David to attempt to discover and understand the struggles he was going through. It is a very sad story, as David speaks of the struggles of coming to terms with what has happened to him; first the loss of sight, then the loss of his mother, which has left him completely alone. In a way, what the artist is attempting to do is to somehow alleviate the loneliness encircling David by giving him regular opportunities to talk to an individual he trusts, and by helping to raise awareness of issues such as these. The potency of this story lies in the fact that Mortram’s photos seem to depict a reality which cannot be expressed by words, which leaves the viewer feeling great sympathy for David as they hear his story, and can see his struggle.

This project seems to be as personal for the artist as it is for his subjects; it appears to express his desire to use photography as a means to convey an important, moralistic message, rather than for the sake of making money or getting “likes” on Facebook – a rare occurence in modern society. For Mortram, it is about a personal relationship between the artist and his subjects which is built on mutual trust; he aims to benefit the individual in the photograph as much as he wants to captivate the audience of his work. For this reason, Mortram is successful in producing something very moving and of lasting significance.

Jim Mortram is successful at pulling at the heart strings in this project, and I would regard it as a must see. The format of the project being as such, one can dip in and out as they please, or follow his work regularly, making it an easy viewing experience for all.

You can view Jim Mortram’s website here:

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