Review: San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA)

Words and photography by Katherine Belarmino

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The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) is one of the many museums in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park and is housed in the Casa de Balboa, formerly the Food & Beverage Building built for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition. The museum started as the Center for Photographic Arts, a San Diego non-profit organization, which existed 1973-1983. In 1983 MOPA was founded, and is celebrating 30 years in 2013.

MOPA has a fairly small gallery, and a visit to the museum will take approximately 45 minutes to an hour. However, the museum is constantly changing what is on display, as MOPA owns over 7,000 photographs and 20,000 books, and continues to procure more.

To celebrate their 30th anniversary, MOPA’s exhibit 30x: Three Decades, running through October 13, 2013, is showcasing one acquisition from each of its 30 years. One of my favorites is Ansel Adams’ Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, which was received as a gift in 1991. Another unique piece is a mugshot album from Stockton, California covering the period 1917-1921.

Another exhibit on display through September 22, 2013, is Pictures of the Year International (POYi), the oldest photojournalism program for photojournalists to portray a world that most of us will never see and raise awareness. Images vary in subject matter, including war-torn countries, drug use, crime, the ivory black market, the Gulf Coast oil spill, and the African Society of Elegant People (SAPE). In POYi’s 70th annual contest of 2013, over 200 awards were given, and the recipients of 80 of those awards are currently on display at MOPA.

Previous exhibitions have included The Jazz Loft Project: W. Eugene Smith in NYC, 1957-1965, which featured photographs of the nocturnal jazz scene in New York City, as well as recordings of musicians, including Roy Haynes, Sonny Rollins, Alice Coltrane, and others.

Not only are photographs and photographic books on display, MOPA weaves interactive displays in with the art. Some photographs provide audio insights that can be accessed by scanning a barcode on a wall plaque with a smartphone. There are interactive touchscreen stations to learn more about the photographs on display. Digital frames present additional photographs. On my most recent visit, there was even live music in a corner of the gallery.

MOPA also has a unique gift shop selling prints, postcards, books, DVDs, cameras, apparel, accessories, picture frames, and more. They even have a photo booth for spur of the moment self-portraits.

About Bloice Davison

Bloice C. Davison, III blogs, travels occasionally, and takes pictures. He has experience in the telecommunications, banking, retailing and outside sales businesses. He is a former fly-fishing guide and fly-fishing instructor for the Orvis Company. He served as an Aircraft Maintenance Specialist in the United States Air Force. A 1988 graduate of Virginia Tech, he also has a BS in statistics from the Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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