Friday, 12 April 2013

Jim Mortram's Small Town Inertia

The death of Margaret Thatcher crystalised not just her legacy, but more importantly the way in which that legacy has been enacted; with a small-minded vindictiveness shorn of empathy and understanding.

I don't really see the point of demonising somebody like Margaret Thatcher, especially in a month where some of the most destructive changes to British society are taking place.

What is surprising is how little photographic work looks at these changes and the people affected by them. There are exceptions to this (and do send me more ideas of people working in the UK on the changes to benefits, housing, the voluntary sector etc etc) and that is what I want to focus on.

Perhaps the most noted of these photographers is Jim Mortram, whose Small Town Inertia examines the lives of people living in his small hometown, Dereham.

Mortram's work has, in the words of this BJP article...

'...resulted in a collection of compelling portraits from Dereham, each telling individual stories of “isolation, poverty, drug abuse, homelessness, self-harm, mental illness, juvenile crime and epilepsy”. Mortram says that overall these are stories of human endurance in the face of cuts to housing benefits, welfare and healthcare. Initially he found it difficult to approach people he wanted to photograph, but soon found that his passion for shooting took over from his lack of confidence. “I learned instinctively that as long as one is open, honest and passionate, people rarely say no if you ask to make a portrait,” he says. “Dereham is a small town, so I’d bump into the same people I had made street portraits with again and again… Now I have a network of people I can call upon if I have a project in mind, a theme, a story.'

Mortram's work is Old School in a big way, but doesn't Old School have a place in a country that is being returned to Victorian times in terms of values at least (Thatcher's real legacy - the spite and hypocrisy of Victorian Values).

And if it is a bit shouty at times, then thank goodness for that, because otherwise the silence would be deafening.


John MacPherson said...

Yes Jim's work is "shouty" but he's so good at this that unlike other "shouty" photographers it's not his voice he's projecting, but that of his 'subjects' (ie collaborators). And thats something to be celebrated.

colin pantall said...

Absolutely, John and because he's part of that world, he is that voice. It's definitely something to be celebrated and held up as an example of what you can do. And he resonates with people because he is so direct and to the point. I think photography needs that directness. Especially now.

If that directness is lost, if we only look at how things are framed , and the powers of the media which disseminate them, well what's the point really.

John MacPherson said...

Couldn't agree more. And the (very) sobering thing about Jim's work is that its 'only' Jim's small town he is focused upon. I just wonder what the hell else is there out there 'untold' and looking for a voice.

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