Be Amazed At The Museum Of Photographic Arts

The Museum of Photographic Arts is located close to the center of San Diego’s gorgeous Balboa Park, near the Japanese Friendship Garden and the San Diego Museum of Art. This unique facility is one of the only of its kind found anywhere in the country. It possesses an outstanding permanent collection, and sponsors numerous special exhibits throughout the year. The Museum of Photographic Arts is also home to a theater, library, and gift shop. 

Save on your visit to the Museum of Photographic Arts!
Museum of Photographic Arts is included on the Go San Diego Pass. Save an additional 5% on the Go City Pass with Coupon Code: GO5CMANTIS The discount stacks on top the current sale prices! Promo expires on February 29th.

Museum Of Photographic Arts History

The story of San Diego’s popular Museum of Photographic Arts begins in 1972, when a group of local artists, photographers, photography afficionados, and patrons joined together to establish the Center for Photographic Arts. For the next decade, this organization would facilitate appreciation for the photographic arts in the San Diego community without actually having its own museum facility to champion.

This would change in the early 1980s, when the city of San Diego agreed to donate prime real estate within iconic Balboa Park to the cause of constructing a photography museum. The Museum of Photographic Arts would open its doors to the general public in 1983, and it remains today one of only three museums in the entire United States that are independent and devoted solely to photography and film.

What’s at the Museum Of Photographic Arts

The foundation of the Museum of Photographic Arts is its sizable permanent collection. Consisting of over 9,000 distinct images created by approximately 850 different artists, this well-regarded archive of photographs contains work by such acclaimed photographers as Ruth Bernhard, Margaret Bourke-White, and Alfred Stieglitz. Particular strengths of the MOPA permanent collection would have to include photojournalism, social documentary photojournalism, and mid-twentieth century Soviet-era Russian photography.

The Museum of Photographic Arts always has multiple temporary exhibitions on display, too. These special exhibits run for several months at a time, and consistently feature work by some of the most renowned artists working in the medium. For example, recent exhibits of note involved subjects as diverse as contemporary Chinese photography, the history of cinema and motion pictures, and the career of Aaron Siskind.

The Joan & Irwin Jacobs Theater at the Museum of Photographic Arts regularly shows a mixture of documentaries, career retrospectives, and one-off movies. Sometimes this stylish space is even the site of film festivals or movie premieres. Given the nature of its eclectic content throughout the year, it’s well-worth checking the Jacobs Theater film schedule in advance of your trip to see what’s going to be on during your visit.

The Museum of Photographic Arts shop sells an assortment of photography-related items. You’ll find here a great selection of books, accessories, apparel, coffee mugs, and DVDs. The MOPA shop sometimes even has a collection of cameras in stock!

Tips for Visiting the Museum Of Photographic Arts

  • If you are planning to visit many tourist attractions while in Sand Diego, think about buying a Go San Diego Pass. It includes admission to the Museum of Photographic Arts as well as lot of other popular tourist attractions for one price.
  • One of the neatest things about the Museum of Photographic Arts is its admission policy. MOPA is a “pay-what-you-wish” museum, meaning that there’s no set, standard admission price. Instead, you simply contribute whatever you can or want to the museum’s cause.
  • The Edmund L. and Nancy K. Dubois Library at the Museum of Photographic Arts houses almost 25,000 photography books and journals. It’s a tremendous resource, and it’s usually open to the public, so if you have the time and inclination, don’t forget to check it out during your visit.
  • The Museum of Photographic Arts offers two types of tours. Self-guided tours are free, typically run Friday through Sunday from 11:00am to 4:00pm, and are arranged so that you can chat with your fellow participants about the art you’re viewing. Facilitated tours cost about $60, are available between Wednesday and Friday from 11:00am to 1:00pm, and are led by experts with special knowledge of the museum’s galleries. Tours must be requested in advance of your visit.
  • In addition to its film screening, the Museum of Photographic Arts routinely hosts a variety of special events. These can include anything from art talks to photography courses to kids-centric programming, so check their online calendar of events for more details.