Opinions

Out of the Blackness: Thoughts on Jim Mortram’s Small Town Inertia

David at home: 2012: Jim Mortram
David at home: 2012: Jim Mortram

My words are thoughts, feelings and gut reactions to a body of work, which I believe to be one of the most important being constructed by any photographer currently working within the United Kingdom. I felt that I needed to put these words into a form, a structure.

I have been aware of Jim’s work for approximately three years and over that time we have swapped e-mails, tweets, Facebook comments and spoken over Skype in front of a number of different audiences. We have got to know each other. We share similar opinions on life, politics, photography and perhaps most importantly music. I commissioned one of the first published articles about him and his images and I helped connect him to his current publisher. I know his work. It’s content it’s intent and the process by which it is created. We both live in Cameron’s Britain.

And yet it was not until recently that I looked at the individual images – some of which accompany this post – as a series of images and saw the blackness. I don’t mean the darkness, as I see no darkness within Jim’s images. His respect for the people he documents is clear as is the strength of character he imbues them with, whatever the intensity of their personal situations. He finds a light within them and that is the light that becomes the central focus of the image. Take a look and see what I mean. The people, the locations and the circumstance in his images are not subjects for his lens they are his people, his locations, his circumstance. He is not on the outside looking into a dark world hoping to create images of sensationalist impact. He is part of the world he documents and that is clear in his work, in the blackness.

Helena at home after her suicide attempt: 2013: Jim Mortram
Helena at home after her suicide attempt: 2013: Jim Mortram

But what is the difference between darkness and blackness? Think of music. Nick Cave travels a world of darkness through his lyrics and written prose, Lou Reed eludes to a world of darkness at society’s edges in all of his music and Neil Young created a sonic world of darkness for his Tonight’s the Night series of songs. Their darkness is observatory, often personal but their light is based on humour, irony and allusion if it is present at all. There are many photographers who work within darkness.

Blackness can be seen in Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square on a White Ground, 1915. Malevich is beyond darkness. He refined his message to a square of nothing but blackness that forces you to look into that blackness to find your own stories, that gains it’s narrative power from the white ground that surrounds it. That to me is the power of Jim’s images. The power of the blackness that draws you into its hidden depth’s searching for clues, details, answers, anything that can explain the power of the central focus of the image that sit’s within the light. The light quietly demands your attention. Whilst the blackness makes us feel uneasy, on edge, unsettled.

Tilney 1: 2012: Jim Mortram
Tilney 1: 2012: Jim Mortram

Few photographers can work with the blackness. I have seen it in the New York images of William Klein, the Minamata images of Eugene Smith and the Vietnam Inc. images of Phillip Jones-Griffiths. I see it in Small Town Inertia.

Blackness is a positive force in Jim’s pictures. It graphically conveys the cold, the isolation, the cigarettes, the financial dead-ends, the emotional torment, the physical struggles, the mental battles, the toughness, the fragility and the sense of a forgotten strata of society that informs the community of Small Town Inertia. The blackness is to be celebrated and embraced however hard that may be for those who have never visited Small Town Inertia in anything more than image form. It is a physical and mental blackness, a social and political blackness and perhaps least importantly of all a photographic blackness.

You can see more of Jim Mortram’s work by visiting http://smalltowninertia.co.uk

© Grant Scott 2013

Bruises left after canulla drip: 2013: Jim Mortram
Bruises left after canulla drip: 2013: Jim Mortram

You can read more of Grant Scott’s insights into the world of professional photography in his new book Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained published by Focal Press and available form www.amazon.com