Over a period of 18 months, photographer Mark Neville chronicled the lives and lands of the Northamptonshire town of Corby. Residents had spent the last eleven years embroiled in an Erin Brockovich-style legal fight with their local Council. The case saw the "Corby 16", as they became known, striving for justice after environmental pollutants were found to be the reason behind a number of children suffering birth defects.

The photographs from Deeds Not Words first appeared in print, but the book was never commercially available. Uniquely, it was created as a campaign tool and so was instead distributed to environmental bodies and government agencies. Two copies of the book can be seen here alongside 32 large photographic prints. Several of the photographs feature residents directly involved with the court case. Some of these images can be read as an allegory of the legal process they faced. The wide-eyed trepidation on the young face of Ben Vissian in Ben Bursting a Balloon (2011) seems to anticipate the David and Goliath fight ahead, whilst the self satisfied smirk in the concluding photograph alludes to the landmark victory they eventually achieved. The bursting balloon is also used as a metaphor for the social and economic implosion being experienced in this town, and this devastation caused by the declining steel industry is a recurring theme throughout.

The photographs are also accompanied by a short video. In a little side room, barely big enough for two, the artist explains his project and residents are given a voice. Hearing the voices of the affected really makes the sentiment of the project hit home. The video emphasises that this project is intended to be more than just a set of interesting photographs.   

Although it was the catalyst that initially drew the photographer's attention, this exhibition is about more than just the court case. Neville seems to have a great affection for the community as a whole, and a varied mix of inhabitants can be found on these walls. The prints are skillfully arranged to create juxtapositions between the generations: bursting scenes of teens in nightclubs sit beside elderly dancers enjoying Sinatra and Dean Martin impersonators. The images of Corby beauty queens at play are a favourite, and there is a brilliant contradiction of modern glamour and junk food in Corby Carnival Queens Go Bowling (2010).

Many of the photographs in this exhibition are funny, but the challenges facing this community are never far from thought. Images depicting more obvious examples of the town's degeneration are carefully placed to ensure that the frivolities never completely distract. Knowing the background story of Corby, which is emphatically emphasised in the introduction text and exhibition guide, each of these photos is imbued with darker connotations. However, the humour is important because it helps to make palatable the seriousness of the political message addressed, and moments of light comic relief save this exhibition from being overwhelmingly melancholy.

There is a strong Scottish flavour in this top floor exhibition space. Despite being geographically distant, their ancestral Scottish heritage is very important to the Corby residents, and this importance is easy to see. The black and white photographs included amongst all the colour convey a sense of heritage, and it feels as if we are seeing a project that was compiled over a number of decades, not months. In all the photographs a sense of pride and "community solidarity" is palpable. The glaring bravado of the young pigtailed girl in Highland Dancers, Corby Highland Games (2010) raises a smile but is full of the small-town protective attitude that all these hardships must have spawned.

Past critics of documentary photography have described it as exploitative, but the inclusion of street names and the naming of many of the people featured shows a lot of respect. Neville has undertaken a responsibility to his subjects and is continuing to raise awareness of the environmental issues that started this project. There are also large posters to take away for free, giving the feeling that this is a campaign that is still buoyant and ongoing. There is so much emotion, history and passion surrounding Deeds Not Words: it's not just an exhibition, it's a movement.   

Mark Neville: Deeds not Words , at Photographers' GalleryStacey Harbour's review of Mark Neville's Deeds Not Words at The Photographers' Gallery, London.4