Jim Mortram's Small Town Inertia

Simon at home

It is often said that you do not need to travel to the ends of the earth to find a good story. One person who has proved that is Jim Mortram, whose documentary work has been creating something of a stir online.

His project, Small Town Inertia, is shot close to home in East Anglia and comprises intimate portraits firmly rooted in the documentary tradition, accompanied by the subject's story in their own words.

The stories are sometimes moving, often challenging and always compelling.

"I'm a carer in my family home, looking after my mother who suffers from chronic epilepsy." Jim says.

"I have been influenced by my upbringing in an environment that has both advocated and required empathy and patience. Also, living on the fringe of society, as a direct result of the situation, has given me a certain perspective on many elements of life.

"For example, the way people perceive the disabled, those with less financial security and to some extent the class system. I can see how frustrating it can be for people who are judged, stereotyped and misrepresented in both life, and to some extent, the media, and have no opportunity to answer or fight back."

In the early days Jim borrowed a camera and his determination to tell stories meant he was drawn to documentary work, offering those who do not have a voice a chance to express their own views. Using social media Jim managed to draw support from a wide number of photographers who offered equipment and advice.

The pictures are undeniably powerful and it is wonderful to see straight photographs that look like real pictures and are of the real world. Yet their power lies in the stories and in Jim's ability to draw those out. So, I thought to echo that, the only way to present this is in Jim's own words.

Jim Mortram

My work is all about acknowledgement, listening and sharing. The photographs are a by-product of those initial elements. This series is rooted in my community, mainly because of my work at home as a carer, and the time, financial and geographical restrictions that imposes.

Start Quote

Everyone has their story, everyone at their core has a need to be heard and really listened to ”

End Quote Jim Mortram

But the outcome of those restrictions has really been of benefit as it has connected me with my community in a very real way. I do feel that we all exist globally as one vast network of people, all with stories, experiences, lives, obstacles and joys, so this series could work in any place.

My approach has always been the same. I meet someone, we talk and I ask if they might like to share their story. We progress from there. Sometimes this happens very fast and I might shoot then and there. Sometimes it might take a few years for the trust to evolve, and that trust is key. Without it I would be photographing people who are scared of the camera and it is part of my job to make the camera invisible.

I don't want the camera to be a barrier between the person pictured and the viewer or to influence what is happening in the shot. Often I'll go on shoots without a camera, maybe just a digital recorder, listening and talking. Trust is the foundation of everything.

Amy After a dispute with her mother because she wanted to visit her father in prison - in an to attempt to make sense of his crimes - Amy, 17, left home and is now sleeping on friends' floors.

The photography comes naturally and is the extension of shutting up and paying attention to the world around us, it is also the perfect vehicle for relaying these stories in our world today.

The role of photography is twofold. Many times I work on stories with people who have no chance to share or to get anything off their chest and have little interaction with anyone. Having a few hours to talk and make some images is a great release, a catharsis. Also, I'm yet to meet someone who really did not have a passion to have their story told, it is always of great importance that someone hears them, sees them and knows they exist.

I hope people looking at the pictures and reading the testimonies will have a greater understanding of the lives around us and will embrace that. It might be the sharing of 2D images but I'm after a 3D reaction and understanding from the audience.

Stuart at home Stuart lives in his late parents' house on the outskirts of town. Alone and somewhat isolated from the world around him, Stuart has taught me one lesson above all: to love the small, precious moments with those close to you. It's the one element of life that can never be regretted. For him, the warmth of remembering sustains the coldness of present days.

The series is totally open-ended and the basic rules are applicable anywhere. Anyone, regardless of community, culture or social standing is a potential subject. More than geographical confines I see the project as relating human experience and endurance, so even if the series in the current location were ever to cease, I'd continue this work.

Ultimately it is all about people, that is - the person the "other" side of the lens. I'm not projecting myself in to these images. My job is to to be quiet, to listen and to see, without adding visual parlour tricks or giving a hard-sell to an audience potentially saturated by digitally enhanced emotions. I intend the images to be as honest as the people sharing their stories.

Everything is the sum of its parts. I'm a product of the life I have had, photography is an extension of me and thus the resulting work is a product of that. We are all, to lesser or greater extent, a product of our environments and experiences even if it's a reaction against or assimilation within them. So I very much see my work as a result of both my life and of those within the work.

You can see the full stories on Jim Mortram's website, Small Town Inertia. Jim is also part of the Aletheia Photo Collective and you can follow him on Twitter.

WH at home The first shots I took were the last of WH's life. With his consent and urging I would visit him and listen to his stories, with the camera being a part of our conversations, the mirror's snap punctuating our final moments together. When WH passed away two weeks after our final meeting I understood how deep a privilege it had been. Making those frames and listening to his memories as he opened up his inner self had a profound affect upon me.
Tilney at the typewriter Tilney: "The medication has its good effects. It's said by the doctors that it stabilises my mood and thoughts, but it has bad affects too. It numbs me. I stare into space for hours on end. I just want to make art. Art is my friend whilst there is no-one here. Art sets me free."
Jimmy at home Jimmy: "I never had any plans, just take it as it comes. I never knew nothing you see, coming from a small village up in the country like I did. Then, when I was a child in Ireland the country was on the breadline. My mother used to get seven-and-sixpence a week children's allowance and that had to get us through Tuesday to Tuesday. There was bread rationing, you'd go into a shop and they gave you one loaf, one pound of sugar and that was your lot for a week. Hard old times and no doubt about it."
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  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Compelling photos and rationale. This gives us a more accurate portrait of Britain, the Britain that doesn't appear in the sanitised and polished picture we get from the media because the stories aren't thought important enough to gather, the pictures aren't taken. This is really important visual storytelling and documentary record.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Every professional photographer knows the power of black and white film.

    I'ts always more dramatic, especially when combined with various use of shadow, light, background and time of day.

    Nevertheless, I commend anyone, whether looking for prizes or not, to bring our attention to those in most in need with permission of those photographed and payment to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Not all loners are lonely. Sadly, lonely become loners, not by choice, but often by circumstance - whatever their age.

    There are vetted befriender volunteers. Contact your local authority or Samaritans 08457 909090 or Samaritans.org., for non-judgemental/non-religious/non-political info' and confidential support.

    NEVER, EVER contact random 'befrienders' online via any links or fakebookers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    40. WebNewsReader "Real life, beautifully photographed". Nope, heavily mediated with content selected or dismissed, included or excised; editing decisions made by the photographer. The pictures can also be interpreted in sundry different ways. "Tendentious images...passed off as undeniable truths"? Or are they a version of Allan Sekula's "find-a bum school of concerned photography"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I am a photographer, and I am a resident of the Market Town where this series is shot and written, I was brought up in its housing estates. I know Jim and I know that his motives are good and not an exploitation of the subjects he engages with.
    This series of images are brilliantly shot and an insight into the struggles of ordinary folk we walk past every day in the street.
    Cheers Jim

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.


    Indeed, it is increasingly the case for far too many - we wouldn't have a housing shortage if more people lived with other people, be they family, friends, partners or just landlords/lodgers.....and we'd all be less lonely too.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Individual existence is fleeting and fragile.

    We all surround ourselves with things that help us to try and forget this, but it never really goes away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.


    Global Yawning really suits you :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    These could be pictures of anybody and everybody.

    "There but for the Grace of God...."

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    A voice for the voiceless, and a good photographer too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I don't think it matters that the images and texts portrayed apply to a multitude of other places. The fact is that the majority of us - myself included - are so wrapped up in our own concerns that we rarely take the time to consider other people's lives. It's a humanizing lesson in perspective to be periodically reminded of this. Much appreciated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.


    Not not really, certainly not to the extent Jim does, I can barely look after myself.

    What I don't do however, is sing from an ivory tower about how bad the world is, then do naff all about it. Which was the original point of my first post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    These pictures, these stories could apply to a million towns other than in East Anglia. These are depressing, anxiety-ridden times, heart-breaking times, & wonders, as I do, why can't the well-educated people in three-piece power suits who run this country & other bring enpowerment to their people.
    My guess: too busy keeping banks too-big-to-fail afloat, and that is just plain sinful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Do you really think this is any different to any other time in history? With the advent of mass media we can now see what has been going on since before the industrial revolution. People's prime concern is to themself first, others after. "Guilt tripping" people or saying "I'm better than you becuase I do so much for charity" is just childish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.



    You just made me smile.

    Thank you.

    I hope SocailReject is able to do so, realise there are far more good people in the world than bad., then change their commenting name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    You take a bunch of pictures and pick out the ones that look best. Everything else you wrote in this article is pseudo-cultured gibberish.

    "My work is all about acknowledgement, listening and sharing."

    Jog on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    We shouldn't despair, SocialReject (sure you're not really). We can all help make communities. Talk to people. Join a choir. Volunteer for the Woodcraft Folk. Go dancing. Go to church or the synagogue. Join a secular book club. It doesn't matter. These are all communities. But do it in real life not online, if you can. That's how to connect with people and see their worth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Real life, beautifully photographed.

    There should be more of this on TV - real reality television.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Our society is broken. There are no communities, and increasingly, no families - just solitary people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.


    Wasn't answering you! I didn't ask Global Yawning to berate my post either. I do what I do out of choice and don't impose my values on anyone. If you want to spend your life being a taker, thats fine. It's one of the reasons this country is in such a mess. I choose to give something back to society because I believe it's the right thing to do.
    Everyones entitled to an opinion, and thats mine


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