'Deeds Not Words' highlights environmental issues raised by Corby court case

The first public exhibition of photographs from 'Deeds Not Words', a multi-layered social documentary project by artist Mark Neville, is now open at the Photographers' Gallery in London.

'Deeds Not Words', which was supported by a Large Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust, chronicles the people of Corby in Northamptonshire and the environmental issues made public by the court case known as the 'Corby 16'.

The project was shot over 18 months and printed in 2011 as a book of photographs, scientific reports and testimonials. The book, which is not available commercially, was used as an advocacy tool and sent to the 433 local council authorities in the UK and to environmental agencies internationally. Neville's aim was to examine issues related to the handling of toxic waste and the reuse of contaminated land.

In 1998 Corby Borough Council was prosecuted for the negligent management of local steelworks sites. The case was brought to court by the families of 16 children, born between 1985 and 1998, with limb defects that were said to have been the result of harmful substances generated during the council's reclamation of the sites.

After an 11-year legal battle that concluded in a High Court of Justice trial, the case has now been decided in favour of the families; however, many of the legal, medical and scientific findings remain unpublished.

Curated by David Campany, the exhibition presents a selection of images and findings from the project: 30 colour and black-and-white photographs depicting everyday scenes and activities, including portraits of two of the young claimants. Seen in the context of the case, Neville's images examine the different aspects of life in Corby, emerging from the decline of its once-famous steelworks.

The exhibition also includes a short film featuring interviews with people involved in the case, various environmentalists and the artist, and copies of the book are on display. Images and information from the show have been reproduced on a limited run of posters to be given away free to visitors.

'Deeds Not Words', the title for both the book and the show, is taken from Corby Borough Council's motto.

Mark Neville said: "The whole character of the town of Corby and its people is still defined by the steel industry which formed it. It was important to me to produce a set of photographs which investigated that character – which did not ignore the visual nature of the town, its Scottish roots or the history of the mills, or separate these from the court case."

Clare Matterson, Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, said: "We are delighted to be extending our support of Mark's original documentary work to this new exhibition. Mark's work portrays everyday life in the Corby community in an arresting way that we hope will stimulate debate around the issues raised by the case, including environmental toxicology and birth defect clusters."

The exhibition runs until 29 September 2013.