Small Town Inertia

Documentary & Portraits by J A Mortram

Discovering communities : The unforeseen treasures of D.I.Y crowdfunding

When I decided a little over 5 months ago to use Social networking sites to generate interest, donations and to sell both single prints and Ltd print sets in an attempt to generate a portion of the funds needed to acquire a camera of my own for use with an ongoing project that deals with people on the fringe of my local community of Dereham, East Anglia I had no idea of the amazing response that would ensue.

I’ve been working on ‘Market Town‘ for close to 2 years now, borrowing equipment where and when I could and fitting in shoots around my duties as a Carer for my Mother with unwavering support from family, friends and Norfolk Camera Centre the local camera shop.

From the moment I was first loaned a camera with the intent of documenting the last weeks of an elderly neighbour whom I was very close with I realised, within myself a homecoming, having a camera in my hands for the first time since my studies at Art School was unforced, the camera was an extension of my intent, not my ego.

Beginning the project had been a true moment of clarity for me.

The first shots I took were the last of W.H’s life. With his consent and urging I would visit with him, listen to his stories and make images in a very fluid style, the camera was a part of our conversations, the mirors snap punctuating our final moments together.

When W.H. passed away 2 weeks after our final meeting and the final frame I was to take with him, I understood how deep a privilege it had been. Making those frames, listening to his memories as he opened up his inner self, bearing witness to the man had a profound effect upon me. The making of those photographs had been, for me, purely about being there to listen and record as I was very aware upon his death all would be gone forever.

It was all about W.H. for me, not imposing my own ego upon him. I had a compulsion to record what was there yet what he gave to me though, in addition to those moments those frames, words and memories was the key that unlocked the place within me that now, looking back, I’d been searching for my whole life. That experiece gave me purpose, direction and had me hear for the first time what had been calling to me for so very long.

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W.H. At home, our final frame.

The Market Town that I live in, is a easy place to be lost, to lose oneself, it’s remnicent of line work in a factory, the repetition anesthetizes and the notion that you’re so far from anywhere that matters, that anything could really happen slowly suffocates hopes, aspirations till you’re bled white. At least, that’s the conclusion I’d arrived at in the months before my experience with W.H.

After those first tentative frames, everything changed.

In this newly awakened state I devoted all my time to meeting people in the streets, talking, proposing shoots where I could visit, talk, listen and make portraits. The very real need to do so grew stronger, an addiction… a beautiful addiction.

The more stories I listened to, the more in tune with an element of my own, once misunderstood and unseen, unacknowledged community I began to feel a part of. It was more than just making images, documenting, it was giving me the heart within my home and I was developing a relationship with the place I’ve lived most of my adult life for the first time.

The greatest pressure become self imposed, I was very aware of how fortunate I was to have a growing network of people that I could visit and make portraits with and I wanted to make the best work I could without altering the conditions I would shoot within.

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Market Town : Stuart

I made the decision that I had to get a camera capable of meeting the demands of the lighting within these homes, apartments as early on I knew the use of flash to compensate the often low light would be too intrusive, too unreal and I needed my images to reflect the honesty of the people and the settings I documented.

After researching certain Crowdfunding sites I noticed many had a clause preventing participants from raising funds for a camera yet this was the single tool I needed most. A camera of my own. I decided to use Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Google + to begin to promote the situation.

Almost instantly the response was overwhelming. People took to the project in a way I could never have imagined nor expected. Being located in a rural location, somewhat out of the loop, especially photographically I was in no way part of any community of photographers or documenters. Outside my work at home and shooting in my free time there are few opportunities, if any to travel or to network in the traditional sense so the Internet was the only real option at my disposal.

As work from Market Town began to be talked about, published, exhibited, written about and prints began to sell I started to be contacted by many followers of the project expressing an interest in helping. This was also the first time I’d entered into any real dialogue about the work and as the weeks turned into months I realised that mirroring my discovery of a very real community here where I make the images I had found yet another one on-line.

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Market Town : Shaunny

Some wonderful sites such as the ever inspirational Duckrabbit wrote wonderful blog posts and gave support (I was donated a F3HP film camera) and amazing photographers such as Justin Leighton (Thank you for the TriX, support and very real guidance) and Simon Carter  (Donated a Linhof IV) helped out in both practical and emotional ways.

Using social networking to get the word out reached places and people I could not have planned for and all in a very organic way, you just plant the seed.

There were many, many times where asking for #RT’s made me feel self-conscious, many times where the path I’d decided seemed to have no light at the end of it, had I made the right decision?… but I stuck with it, I’d no alternative and the few times I expressed momentary frustration the support was again, amazing.

Never did I expect that my foray into social networking would have resulted in the bonds I have made, friendships I’ve made, the vast amount of help, support, goodwill and acts of kindness that I have been very, very lucky to have received. It’s been a hell of a journey but so very worth every twist and turn.

Yesterday, I made the target I’d set. So after months of a noodle (Photographers) diet, saving every spare penny, print and set sold and donation I was able to pay off the used D700.

The camera is amazing. No doubt about that. What’s truly amazing to me has been the experience of finding a place within a community of photographers, writers, curators, collectors and editors that I truly, never foresaw. I just aimed to get a great camera to make the best images I could of the people and lives that I do. I’ve come away with so, so much more than that. What I’ve come away with, it turns out, is priceless.

I kind of joked on Twitter that this inaugural post might descend into my ‘Oscar’ speech and one urge impossible to resist is to take the opportunity to thank my Father, whom every day has supported me through this and every day deals with great strength and grace his wife’s, my Mothers illness and my partner Laura without whom I doubt I’d even be here. You’re both, the very best.

Lastly, my huge, ever present thanks to everyone that I make portraits with and document, you let me into your lives and for that experience I’m a richer man. Without you all a camera would be, for me, is a paper weight. Thank you.

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Market Town : Jimmy and the Jacks

I’ll be blogging regularly about here but for now, thanks for reading.

14 Comments

  • Andy Gregor

    February 1, 2012 at 7:28 pm → Reply

    Great to read the story so far. As much as like Twitter, between the character limit and how fast the time line can tick along it’s easy to miss great projects.Thankfully, I have also found out about a lot of great work getting done, and your is right up there with the best of it. Enjoy the new cameras Jim they are well deserved.

  • David Lyman

    February 1, 2012 at 9:59 pm → Reply

    Compelling images. Beautifully and wonderfully crafted. Amazing to see from a person with borrowed equipment. You have an eye and a soul of an artist. Keep on with the work. There is book and an exhibition down the road.

  • J A Mortram

    February 1, 2012 at 10:15 pm → Reply

    Thank you David, very much. Planning for both in the future and both to be integrated with work produced by the people I document too.

  • Andy Greaves

    February 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm → Reply

    Bloody wonderful Jim. This project deserves the very best that can be done for it. I wish you well and if I can help in any way then don’t hesitate.

  • Jim B

    February 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm → Reply

    Although all in all it was a great idea, i believe film would have been a more powerful medium, in capturing the stories and final moments and would have been something extremely captivating.

  • J A Mortram

    February 2, 2012 at 1:19 pm → Reply

    Thanks Jim. Maybe you’ve misunderstood the post but my portraits were made with a borrowed camera, the only option available to me at the time of making. Were I in the position to have used film at my time (This is not the post I’ll get into the fairly tired film vs digital debate) of making portraits with W.H. I may have chosen that option. Plus, the project is not now, nor never will have a end date, it’s something I’ll work on, alongside other projects forever.

  • John MacPherson

    February 3, 2012 at 9:57 am → Reply

    Jim – not only are your images carefully contemplated and beautifully captured, but your words are as carefully considered and insightful. Your ‘celebrations of the ordinary’ are a lesson to everyone who aspires to be ‘a photographer’ and particularly people who think they need to go to exotic ‘other places’ in order to find subject matter worthy of recording. There’s a dignity in your work born from something that’s not as common as you’d think amongst photographers, understanding. Keep it going. Respect.

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Discovering communities : The unforeseen treasures of D.I.Y crowdfunding