J A Mortram

100th a second and 24/7

There was a moment when I came to realise that attaching labels to photography was a dead end. Projects, series, subjects, themes, all blow away like sand in a storm and what is left?, simply, vitally, life.  I’ve always made photographs as a reflection of those lives around me, and less consciously, without paying too much mind to it, it’s a reflection of my own life. I wake, thinking about it, it’s there whispering, calling through every day, it’s there as I attempt to sleep, it’s consuming, all embracing, as natural as breathing, as important as dreaming.

I’ve, since I began, regarded conduct and immersion far more important, than the technical aspects, the use of tools, these are there to be learned, ingested, it’s like learning to walk, you just, do it, then use it. I never wanted to work my way within a life, stuff my pockets with the treasures trust permits then split, with no backwards glance to the very real situations that explicitly gifted to me the opportunity to make photographs, to try to report, to document. From day one, I knew, a casual dip into a life could never be enough, I needed to learn, get close, understand, and the only way to do this was to give it all I have, as with any relationship, it’s all or nothing.

Over time, casual meetings, embryonic opportunities evolve, you give them your all and they grow from tentative beginnings, from shadows and ghosts and wishes, to something real. It’s, for me, impossible to not become personally involved in documenting. I can’t be that close to another human being, hearing stories, witnessing events, being present, without my own self becoming aware and attached, without caring. It’s, I guess, the difference between speed dating and a long romance. I always worry that if I don’t open myself up, I’ll never give enough. You have to let life touch you, to fully comprehend it, if all I were to do was take a camera and take images, I’d never get close to the essence, the real, the truths, and to not do that, for myself at least, would be a terrible abuse of trust, after being afforded such opportunity, to be welcomed within another’s reality, to not really BE there, would feel like an insult.

I remember everything. The first moments David’s late mother, Eugene, invited me to their small terraced home, to meet and interview David. I remember his shock, still amputated from his life as a result of his blindness. I remember Eugene’s tears and worry and love. I remember her life slipping away.

I remember David calling and through tears explaining Eugene had been taken to hospital after a series of falls, he’d no-one to take him to the hospital to visit her. We went together, a couple of times, then, she was gone. The last visit, David had the opportunity to say goodbye, I remember how frail Eugene was as she lay embryonic in her hospital bed, the antiseptic stink of the room,  David sobbing, Eugene barely conscious, communicating with a squeeze to David’s hand, as he said “I love you, Mum” for the final time. I remember that ride back to David’s on the bus and I remember my own tears when I returned home. Tears born from the fact that strangers, had evolved into friends, and their pain, was now mine.

I don’t dig zoom lenses. Not for this type of photography, if you want to get close, shoot prime and use your legs. I feel the same about emotions, if you want to get close, BE close, you can’t have half measures, you can’t fake interest, feign compassion. So much of life, is about being receptive. Visually, we have our eyes open, we let all we see come into us, we react and it causes a chain reaction, based on the sum of our parts, and an image is the result. Emotionally, I feel the same. We open ourselves up, life floods in. It’s an honour, such a fucking powerful, ever present honour. As with all relationships in life, these are the true treasures of life, our interactions, our communication, the constant tide swells of giving, sharing and being.

It’s not a toy, to be picked up and put down, a stitch to plug a wound when needed… it’s breathing and being, it’s the shadow cast by the sun or moon, it’s omnipresent, the feelings that come with working long form and I’d have it no other way, I couldn’t be any other way, I couldn’t sleep at night, if I set about this any other way, it has to be 100th a second and 24/7, and it has to be so because, it is life, like the shadow cast from that light, the light speeding from the sun, upon the face, upon the mirror or sensor, you have to allow it to touch you, to illuminate you, anything else, you’ll stay untouched, in the darkness, and that’s no place to be.

I keep in constant contact with everyone I document. Even if I can’t get out to shoot for a week, two, I’m always talking, listening to everyone, keeping in touch. The phone is always ringing, inbox always filled, it’s a commitment, and one I’ve never regretted. When I began to document David, for example, I could never have foreseen fundraising for his SARA scanner, so he might be able to hear his beloved books, never could have imagined having any hand in offering any proactive help.

Yet, through committing, opening my own self up, to feel that which transpired in front of me, not permitting a lens to be a coat of armour, a barrier between myself and that which constantly evolves in front of me, you find yourself carried away in the life… to the point where you’re so involved, you want to do more, need to do more, than collect images and document events, lines blur, lives entwine and through it all, what empowers images is understanding, empathy, is simply, being there. Not being there with a camera, but the self, truly being there, the camera along for the ride, being the tool that it is, not an all access pass to lives secrets, joys and suffering, but an extension of the self, and the selfs real involvement and reactions, to be there, you truly have to be there, and then, the great desire is, when you eventually, after weeks, months, even years, share a story, you got close enough so that you might empower any viewer of the story, to get close enough to give a fuck, too.


David at home, 2014.


David, explaining the injuries he suffered after an attack in Market Town.


David, 2014.


David, eating alone, 2014.


David, 2014.

Cheers to you all, for reading, looking, feeling.

Next, more work, details of a competition for a first year student to win a camera, and, fight the good fight, for there is no other fight to be fought!.


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100th a second and 24/7