Categories: Justin Duyao, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: MOPA Celebrates 40-Year Legacy of Inspiring Photography and Art in Balboa Park

By Justin Duyao

April 18, 2023

Image: Gensler

In 1983, the Center for Photographic Arts moved into its home in Balboa Park and changed its name to the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA). One of the stated objectives of the transition from non-profit to brick-and-mortar museum was to “Assemble an outstanding collection of film, video and still photography — a repository for our cultural heritage.” The founders of MOPA also wanted to create an “active museum, a participatory museum, alive with programs.” 

Suffice it to say, over the past 40 years, that dream has become a reality. One of only three museums in the nation dedicated solely to lens-based art, MOPA’s collection has gathered and archived over 9,000 images by 850 artists, as well as 22,000 books and related materials. Throughout its annual calendar of thought-provoking and engaging exhibitions, film festivals and lifespan-learning opportunities, MOPA serves over 50,000 visitors every year.

“The joy of MOPA is that it’s a photographic museum,” said MOPA Executive Director and Chief Curator Deborah Klochko. “We help people navigate the modern world and understand the power of the image. To do so, we teach visual literacy. We offer lifespan learning programs for young students all the way to senior citizens. We also curate a range of exhibitions to help our visitors understand how diverse the world of photography really is.”

Though a significant portion of its exhibitions and educational resources focus on the history of lens-based art, a cornerstone of MOPA’s mission is to embrace change. 

ROBERT DOWNEY JR. High definition video 2004 Music by Tom Waits © Robert Wilson

“We live in a time where the photographic image, the lens-based image — whether it’s a selfie or a TikTok — is primary,” Klochko said. “And yet, despite the fact that everyone who has a cell phone has a camera, it doesn’t make them photographers. They don’t understand the history. They don’t understand the power of the medium to make change, how context can change the meaning [of an image]. This makes a museum like MOPA all the more important.”

Especially as AI-manipulated images grow in popularity, Klochko explained that developing the ability to scrutinize visual culture, interpret the truth behind widespread visual images and ask hard questions of the people sharing them will become vital. 

“Even in this time of fake-news, people are not being given the skills to question,” Klochko said. “I don’t think our education system is set up for that. That’s why a museum like MOPA matters, now more than ever.” 

Julia Margaret Cameron, The Mountain Nymph Sweet Liberty, 1866, albumen print © The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A, acquired with the generous assistance of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund. Museum no. RPS.1241-2017

In celebration of MOPA’s 40th anniversary, the museum has brought together an intoxicating spring trio of exhibitions, each of which spotlights different ground-shaking methods of portraiture, from the 19th Century to the modern age. 

The anniversary exhibitions include work by San Diego-based artist Suda House in The Water Holds Me, which pulls back nature’s physical boundaries to explore the strength and power of women; the renowned theater director and visual artist Robert Willson in Robert Wilson: Video Portraits, which combines highly developed theatrical language in conjunction with the startling clarity and precision of HD video; and touring the world directly from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), Arresting Beauty: Julia Margaret Cameron, a collection of work by one of the most innovative and influential photographers of all time.

MOPA is pleased to be the first venue in the United States to exhibit this extensive collection by Julia Margaret Cameron, a pioneering portraitist criticized in her own time, but now admired for her innovative and unconventional techniques.

Find additional information about MOPA’s upcoming exhibitions at

Running Dates, Hours, and Pricing

  • March 4 – October 15: The Water Holds Me by Suda House
  • April 1 – September 24: Video Portraits by Robert Wilson
  • April 29 – September 3: Arresting Beauty: Julia Margaret Cameron
  • Saturday, May 6, 5:00 p.m: Julia Margaret Cameron Lecture with Malcolm Daniel Sat. May 6, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.: Opening Reception

The three exhibitions run overlapping, with a celebratory opening reception for all three on May 6th, 2023 at MOPA (1649 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA.).

Hours are Thursday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. 

MOPA is a Pay What You Wish, no admission charge venue. This voluntary contribution policy makes MOPA accessible to everyone. 

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