I first heard of Jim Mortram and his project ‘Small Town Inertia’ in the ‘Ones to Watch’ section of the British Journal of Photography. At first, I was happy that someone from my homeland, Norfolk, was making an impact in the photographi...
I first heard of Jim Mortram and his project ‘Small Town Inertia’ in the ‘Ones to Watch’ section of the British Journal of Photography. At first, I was happy that someone from my homeland, Norfolk, was making an impact in the photographic world. But of all projects I’d seen in BJP, Small Town Inertia was the only that gripped me.
Jim is a documentary photographer in the rural town of Dereham, Norfolk in the UK. The project portrays the lives of those “living on the fringe of society”, often focussing on the emotional, mental and physical hardships of those involved. The images, accompanied by text and quotations, make up this “long-form documentary and environmental portraiture series” with captivating brutal honesty.
The images, accompanied by text and quotations, make up this “long-form documentary and environmental portraiture series” with captivating brutal honesty.
PetaPixel: Hi Jim, I remember reading about Small Town Inertia in an issue of BJP and it stood out to me over the rest. Could you explain how the project started?
Jim Mortram: Thanks. Small Town Inertia was born from many elements all converging. Financially, being a carer living on benefits is crippling leaves you with zero budget. I don’t drive; I cycle or take public transport, so shooting in the immediate locale was literally the only option I had. It’s all been about sculpting negatives into positives, right from day one.
I had a very fractured relationship with where I live: a small, lost, failing, isolated market Town in East Anglia. It’s really an island unto itself within England. I moved here when I was very young, eleven, so always felt like an outsider. Being a carer only served to reinforce this sensation. Working crazy hours, over time, you lose connection with peers and find yourself in the fringe of what community there is around you. When I began the series I gravitated instinctively to document people in similar situations; people out on the edge of society.
As the series evolved I found myself becoming more involved in life again, with the people and ultimately the area. It turned a hate relationship; being stuck in a kind of no man’s land, into love. I began to appreciate everything, notice more, listen more and realised just how much strength there is. The endurance in people’s lives, balanced against the hardship, stress and heartache.
Tilney1: “My sleep pattern got f**ked up after I was sectioned and put in hospital. I just can’t switch my mind off and the loneliness gets to me.”
At the beginning I was using all borrowed equipment. It was a real fight. But, once the series got on the path it did, there was a natural momentum; an unseen magnetic pull that made me almost oblivious to the struggle. See, there is such a sense of responsibility that comes with shooting long form documentary, and it’s such an honour.
I’m so lucky, to be given the gifts of honesty and trust by the people I document. It’s a very real, ever present sensation. That’s the fuel. That’s what creates the trajectory: listening to the stories as they unfold, being close to people, being given these gifts of their lives and, in turn, having a platform to then share them with the wider world. It’s amazing, just amazing.
What’s strange, for myself at least, is that it’s often implied that I shoot a side of life that no one sees, that people turn their attention from. But now, there is no conscious choice of who to document. It just happens, very organically. People are all around us.
My philosophy is that everyone has a story and their experiences can inform us all about life. We all have shared common experiences. We all have so much to teach and share and learn from one another. Photography is such a powerful sharing tool; present that with testimony and you can really share.
I’m pretty obsessed with the notion of the ‘now’ of life, the right now. Even though this community is seemingly a satel