Rule Breakers: Jim Mortram

“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.

Rule Setter: Stuart Pilkington, Curator and Photographer
Rule Breaker: Jim Mortram

I never want to see another picture of disengagement. Which is quite rich coming from me as my current long-term project is all about disengagement. I photography strangers in nearby towns and cities using a deadpan aesthetic and quite rightly friends and family ask me, “Why aren’t the people in your pictures smiling?” It’s not that a photograph of another person needs a smile, a concept that first introduced by Kodak, but it does need a connection between the photographer and the person being photographed.

I believe that an abundant life is one where you feel on a deep level that you are connected to other people. And conversely, our unhappiness most readily stems from a disconnection. Anthropologists will suggest that this stems from an evolutionary need to be part of the pack otherwise we will be in danger of being eaten by a predator. However, I suggest that it’s because we have souls and one of our prime needs and desires is to be connected to other souls, to something larger than ourselves.

Jim Mortram is a photographer who breaks this rule wholeheartedly. He is based in the Norfolk village of Dereham and a few years ago he photographed a neighbor of his and began documenting his story. The neighbor sadly passed away soon after, but this was the start of Mortram’s long-term photography project entitled Small Town Inertia. Jim is incredibly humble about his vast talent at creating images. His black and white, social documentary and filmic style blows me away every time I see it on his website or on a gallery wall. However, Jim will always say that he only uses his camera as an excuse to connect with other people in his hometown. He visits people like David, Tilney1, and Simon and tells their story, their struggles and their highs. The writing accompanying his photographs moves me immeasurably and has changed my life for the better. He has become a lifeline for other people; he cares about them, he listens to them, and most importantly, he impresses upon them that they are incredibly valuable. It is because of his work that I have decided to enter my own community and start seeking people out who may need support and connection with another human being. Small Town Inertia was the seed that gradually grew and made me one day decide to take action. And this is the reason that it is so important that Mortram’s stories are seen by more and more people—because every one of us will be exponentially happier if we start to take our eyes off our own concerns and start to engage with others. I’m grateful to Jim Mortram for opening my eyes and moving me to do something positive in my hometown.

—Stuart Pilkington