An exhibition of photographs of everyday scenes and activities in Corby has gone on show at a London art gallery.
Deeds Not Words, a social documentary project by Mark Neville, is on show at The Photographers’ Gallery.
Deeds Not Words was shot over 18 months and printed in 2011 as a book of photographs, scientific reports and testimonials.
The project chronicles the people of Corby and the environmental issues made public by the court case known as the ‘Corby 16’.
The book, which is not available commercially, was put to use as an advocacy tool and sent directly to the 433 local council authorities in the UK and to environmental agencies internationally.
Neville’s aim was to examine issues around the handling of toxic waste and the reuse of contaminated land.
This exhibition will be the first public display of these images, exploring Neville’s challenging approach to documentary photography while marking another stage in his campaign for positive change.
In 1998 Corby Council was prosecuted for negligent management of the local steelworks sites.
The case was brought to court by the families of 16 children born between 1985 and 1998 with limb defects.
These were said to have been the result of harmful substances generated during the council’s reclamation of those sites.
Following an 11-year-long legal battle which concluded in a High Court of Justice trial, the case has now been decided in favour of the families.
However, many of the groundbreaking legal, medical and scientific findings remain unpublished.
This exhibition will present a selection of images and findings from the project: 32 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—which vary from high theatre to straight documentary—examine the different aspects of life in Corby, a town marked by a strong Scottish identity, emerging from the decline of its once-famous steelworks.
The exhibition will also include a short film featuring interviews with some of those involved in the case, various environmentalists as well as the artist.
Copies of the book will also be on display.
Key images and information from the show will be reproduced on a limited number of double-sided posters and given away free to visitors.
Deeds Not Words, the title for both the book and the show, is taken from Corby 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.
“Social documentary photography sometimes deals passively with its subject matter.
“What this exhibition is ambitiously trying to achieve is to reach out to environmental and scientific bodies, raise awareness about the issues, and perhaps even bring about a change in policy.
“In doing so it also attempts to explore the possible functions of documentary photography, and its relationship to a wider audience.”
Director of The Photographers’ Gallery Brett Rogers said: “Since critics in the 1970s made the case that photographs of victims are exploitative, deceitful – even pornographic – a generation of photographers has chosen either to avoid addressing these difficult subjects or find dramatic new ways of approaching them.
“Mark Neville confronts the dialectic which lies at the heart of representing individual suffering, challenging us to reconsider the photo’s ability to generate protest and effect political change.
“Deeds not Words crystallises Neville’s commitment to a reformulated idea of documentary – one which fundamentally addresses key human rights issues for our time.”
Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust Clare Matterson 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 which we hope will stimulate debate around the issues raised by the case, including environmental toxicology and birth defect clusters.”
The exhibition is curated by David Campany.
Deeds Not Words was made possible through the generous support of a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and runs from August 2 to September 29 at the gallery, at 16 to 18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW.