Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Five Questions with the Museum of Photographic Arts

San Diego, California

The Museum of Photographic Arts at 1649 El Prado in Balboa Park. Photo courtesy of the museum

The Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) is one of more than 40 California museums that's participating in Blue Star Museums this summer. Here's Deborah Klochko, the museum's director, to tell us more about MoPA, which houses a collection of more than 9,000 photographs spanning the history of the medium.

NEA: Please tell me a little bit about the Museum of Photographic Arts.

DEBORAH KLOCHKO: The Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) is one of America’s premier photographic institutions whose mission is to "inspire, educate, and engage the broadest possible audience through the presentation, interpretation, collection, and preservation of photography, film, and video."  MoPA officially opened its doors to the public on May 1, 1983, as one of the first museum facilities in the United States designed exclusively to collect and present the world's finest examples of photographic art. Through an active exhibition schedule, public programs, education outreach, and photographic archive, MoPA has engaged photography in the broadest possible terms, recognizing photography as an art medium with its own rich history and visual vocabulary.

NEA: What’s your favorite object in the collection and why?

KLOCHKO: My favorite item in the collection is one of our more recent acquisitions. MoPA has just started to actively collect rare books related to photography allowing the museum to present the medium in a broader context. The 1874 edition of The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite by James Nasmyth and James Carpenter contains detailed photographs of the moon’s surface. What I love about this book is that it demonstrates the power of photography as a “truthful” medium. The “moon” was actually plaster models made by Nasmyth and then photographed. These early close-up views of the moon were accepted as accurate representations of the moon, and the fact that they were presented photographically helped with that perception. Nasmyth was not trying to be deceptive, just the opposite, he was revealing what the human eye could not see unaided.

NEA: What’s on view now at MoPA?

KLOCHKO: We are currently showing two exhibitions from our permanent collection, Seeing Beauty and In Light, as well as a juried exhibition, State of Mind: A California Invitational.

Seeing Beauty is the fifth in a series of educational exhibitions from our permanent collection and examines the differing interpretations of beauty across time and culture. The exhibition includes a broad range of genres---such as portraiture, abstraction, landscape, and still life---encouraging the viewer to examine how a personal interpretation of beauty actively defines the experience of looking at art. In Light explores the technological innovations that have driven the photographic medium and includes works by masters of the medium, including icons such as Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams.

State of Mind showcases 22 contemporary California photographers and originated as a juried show, where we invited 40 photography professionals within the state to submit their nominations for photographers that they felt were doing the most innovative work. The work in this show was all created between 2005 and the present, so it is really an indicator of photography in the 21st century.

Lou Stoumen, Times Square in the Rain, New York, 1940, gelatin silver print, collection Museum of Photographic Arts. © Museum of Photographic Arts

NEA: What do you hope visitors to MoPA take away from the experience?

KLOCHKO: We strive to carry out four core values: to inspire all visitors, while fostering their ability to learn, see, and create. This is a challenge we embrace.

At MoPA, we are developing innovative ways to disseminate our collections to an education audience and to develop programs that address lifespan learning.

MoPA’s education and outreach programs serve an average of 14,000 children each year. These programs serve as a learning center both on and off site, offering a variety of programs to youth, students, and families. The goals of the education department are to provide the region with a deepened appreciation for art, inspire creativity, offer knowledge, and encourage visual learning and critical thinking. School programs enable students to attend the museum for free, participate in tours, family festivals, and related educational activities. Free services to educators include exhibition previews, related curriculum materials, and the annual Education Open House. Programs integrate both photography and film into existing state mandated school curricula. In addition, the museum incorporates its own educational curriculum---The Visual Classroom: Integrating Photography into the School Curriculum and Beyond Beauty: What is Real Beauty?---into school programming. MoPA strives to be a leading institution in the development and implementation of visual literacy lifespan education.

NEA: Aside from MoPA, what’s your own favorite museum to visit and why?

KLOCHKO: Working in museums is a passion not a job. So when I travel I am always visiting museums wherever I am. One of my favorites is the Egyptian wing of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. It is the combination of the wonderful modern addition of a glass-enclosed space housing the remnants of ancient Egyptian temples that resonate for me. In winter it becomes a magical place for me to be surrounded by these antiquities and to watch the snow falling outside.

Internationally, my favorite museum is the Miho Museum in Japan. Designed by I.M. Pei, it is located in the mountains outside of Kyoto. Built to house a collection of Egyptian, Roman, and Asian antiquities, the experience is as much about the objects as it is about the structures that house them. From the journey through the mountains to get there to the pathway leading through weeping cherry trees to the museum to the amazing ceramics used in the restaurant, every aspect is thoughtful and beautiful. Oh, and then there is the collection! A great experience and worth the trip.

Visit the Museum of Photographic Arts website to learn more.

Learn more about the Blue Star Museums project here.

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