100 Years Of Photography At Newport

Newport Survey

February 27, 2012  by admin

The 2012 Newport Survey exhibition represents a celebration of the project undertaken by Documentary Photography students and Graphic Design students at Newport throughout the 1980s to capture life in the city during the decade.

From 1979 the Newport School of Art and Design developed a highly successful documentary photography project called The Newport Survey. The Survey, which was undertaken by students, directed by staff, was supported by a number of organisations based in the Newport area.  A Newport Survey book containing a series of photographic essays was published every year, being launched at Newport Art Gallery, John Frost Square.  The annual themes included The Family, Newport Neighbours, The River Usk, Industry, Leisure, Religion and Education.  The impetus for the Survey’s first project was to document family life and the ways social and economic factors shaped it. The introduction to the first Project publication stated,

“As Britain enters the 1980s we also enter a period of economic recession…south Wales and Newport in particular has, like every other industrial region, been greatly affected by these forces. Contraction in the Coal and Steel industries is producing traumatic changes in the economy of the region… Through photographs we hope to construct a contemporary visual history of Newport”.

In light of the prevailing social and economic conditions in the UK at that time, parallels with the conditions documented by the New Deal photographers of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) were made – these photographers had recorded the American Depression of the 1930s.  The photography curriculum at Newport included a study of the work of these photographers.  In the 1980s Ffotogallery, the Cardiff based gallery for contemporary photography, used the Newport Survey as a template for a geographically wider documentary project The Valleys Project, which ran from 1984 through to 1990.


The South Wales Argus newspaper produced a campaign publishing photos from the Newport Survey and calling on any readers who recognised themselves or others to come forward with their stories relating to the images captured.  The many responses, with their warm and heartfelt recollections of Newport in the 1970s and 1980s, along with those of the students who had documented the people and their town, is testimony to the continuing capacity of photography to touch the lives of individuals, families and their communities and in turn for those communities to continually welcome the curious eye of Newport Photography Students.