Photofusion, a photography centre and gallery in London’s Brixton that supports emerging and mid-career artists, is currently hosting an exhibition of work by British photographer Jim A Mortram. Composed of images from his ongoing series Small Town Inertia, the show delves into over a decade worth of photographs taken by Mortram in his home of Dereham.
Situated in Norfolk, the town has long been at the mercy of the government’s spending cuts and tax increases, and, following the pandemic and the recent cost of living crisis, is currently being hit harder than ever. As a local resident and full-time carer for his elderly mother, Mortram knows all too well the hardship the area and its inhabitants face.
Using his camera as a tool to amplify the stories of those affected, Mortram has spent many years building relationships with his neighbours. He has photographed them in their homes, capturing intimate moments that speak to both the ongoing struggles that they face and the admirable resilience with which they meet the challenge.
“We are a community and I’ve met everyone I’ve ever photographed (aside from my mum) as a stranger,” Mortram tells CR. “Together we have made this work and my role is to amplify this testimony as loudly as possible in the hope that people realise we are more than statistics or stereotypical headlines in the media, or – at the absolute worst – entertainment on television.”
Presented in black and white, the photographs in the series are often difficult to date – they could be from last week or 30 years ago. However, Mortram says this ambiguity comes as a result of not just the monochrome colour palette, but because “poverty has looked the same for decades”. He goes on: “The victims of poverty have always been the same. As photographs freeze a moment, the moment and those enduring suffering is forever unchanged in reality, so for me it’s only right the photographs use the same visual language, because nothing has changed.”
Beyond his stylistic decisions, the colour palette also arises from Mortram’s own financial hardship. Using a monitor that he bought from Cash Converters for £10, he says the screen was “bust” and in turn forced him to work in black and white: “Everything looked green, so I turned the colour off and started working mono. It just happened to really fit because it’s an easy to understand visual language and because I make work intended for the masses, not the visually literate.”
This appeal to a wider demographic is by far the photographer’s primary concern. He hopes that his evocative portraits of Dereham’s residents will speak to viewers from all backgrounds, not least because the themes present are in many ways universal.
But also because the current situation requires urgency. Speaking on this, he concludes: “The future is bleak and it has never been more important for me to listen to other stratas of society, to have empathy, and to use whatever skills are at my disposal to amplify reality against the party line, lies and apathy.”
Small Town Inertia is on show at Photofusion until October 13; photofusion.org