MOPA turns 35

Posted: August 10th, 2018 | Arts & Entertainment, Top Story | 1 Comment

By Cynthia Robertson

Balboa Park museum celebrates with Push Pin Party

Many photographers look forward to occasions where they can get together to talk about their craft and to find new inspiration. The 35th anniversary of the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) in Balboa Park provided that opportunity with its unique Push Pin Party on Thursday, Aug. 2. For its anniversary celebration, the evening was a remake of the original event, initially premiering when MOPA opened back in 1983.

Push Pin Party attendees look for their images on a table to put up on the exhibit walls (Photo by Cynthia Robertson)

Carmela Prudencio, marketing and communications coordinator for MOPA, encouraged photographers — both amateur and professional — to submit up to three prints that they could pin on a special exhibit wall. When the museum opened at 6 p.m. on the evening of the Push Pin Party, there was already a crowd of people at the table sorting through the pictures.

“I’m surprised by the response. We received more than 300 submissions,” Prudencio said during the event, as she carefully looked through the prints to help one of the attendees find their images.

An exhibit wall at MOPA’s 35th Anniversary Push Pin Party (Photo by Cynthia Robertson)

Celebrating the art of photography has been a goal of MOPA since it first opened its doors more than three decades ago. Perhaps an even greater goal has been to establish a community among photographers.

“Doing photography can be rather solitary,” MOPA member Ronnie Bautista said. “An event like this brings the photography community together.”

“I believe in the power of community and the Push Pin Party is a testament of what a group of passionate people can accomplish,” Prudencio echoed.

In 1983, a grassroots group of photographers established MOPA for the community to gather and promote photography.

“Thirty-five years later, we honor the hard work of those luminaries with their own concept, the Push Pin Party,” Prudencio said.

MOPA Executive Editor Deborah Klochko welcomed everyone to the event and noted its diversity.

“It is good to see people who are here to display their personal styles and others who just want to participate and show something from their lives,” Klochko said.

Not all people at the Push Pin Party considered themselves accomplished photographers. Rather, many simply enjoyed the art of it — and the story that photographs tell.

The photos on the exhibit wall at the Push Pin Party engaged people in conversation about them. (Photo by Cynthia Robertson)

Laura Street brought a photograph of her son when he was 9 years old. Throughout the evening, she moved around the exhibit, taking in all the pictures up on the walls and the people who brought them.

“It’s so exciting to see all this. Experiencing the way others see things is incredible,” Street said. “I’ve talked to quite a few of the photographers and we showed each other our photos, gave some history of them.” In particular, Street connected with Bautista’s surreal image of a white horse on a beach.

“The photo was a double exposure on Polaroid film. I shot it on an SX-70 Land Camera,” Bautista said. He previously studied at City College and also taught himself many photographic methods.

“I enjoy both the pre- and post-visualization process,” he continued.

Sharing this visualization is partially why the photography museum formed in the first place.

In its early years — before MOPA was housed at Balboa Park — the organization was dubbed a “museum without walls.” Bob Schneider, one of the initial members of MOPA who attended the original Push Pin Party in 1983, explained that it produced photographic exhibitions in a variety of locations.

“In other words, a museum without a home,” Schneider said.

Prominent local photographer and professor Suda House explained that by the ’80s, photographers expressed a strong desire to exhibit their work.

“Countless other events like the Push Pin Party were reaching out to showcase photography as something more than just a document,” House said.

Mary Sloban, also an original MOPA member, remembers the Knights of Columbus building where photographers used to exhibit until MOPA organized and secured a space in Balboa Park.

“I was an original docent for many years. As a group we supported the museum by giving tours and financially,” Sloban said.

Bob Walker, another member in the early years, explained that completing a basic photography class at Southwestern College started him on the photographer’s path.

“Literally, it changed my life,” Walker said.

Yet Walker did not do much work with photography until years later when local photographers began exhibiting at Gallery Graphics.

“Because of my exposure to photographic technique and history of the medium, my photo path has journeyed from gallery director and museum founder to photographic author and working photographer,” he continued. “We never know when a seed will be planted in us by some new experience.”

Planting that seed of passion for photography is what all MOPA members aim to do. Street has high hopes for her own son, who received a new, instant, Polaroid-type camera for his birthday.

“He loves the camera, takes it with him everywhere. It has helped him to become focused on things around him,” Street said.

Indeed, it is not so much the medium anymore that makes or breaks a photographer. Instead, it is the way in which the photographer sees the world. Schneider noted that virtually everyone carries a camera in their pockets capable of very fine imaging.

“Regardless of the technology used, serious practitioners continue to explore the possibilities and strive to achieve the exceptional,” Schneider said.

For more information about MOPA, visit

—Cynthia Robertson is a local freelance writer.

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One Comments

  1. Bonnie Bekken says:

    Unable to make this highly anticipated event at my favorite Balboa Park Museum, I was grateful to see your coverage by the photojournalist Cynthia Robertson. Her feature captures the passion for life that makes photography so critical to our recording its moments, its impressions, its interpretations. Grateful, too, that MOPA found a home in Balboa Park, where is always excellently curated exhibits, are a constant invitation. May it always be accessible. May the parking always be free, though word is Local Power Structure will have its way in building a costly parking garage behind the Sore Kees Organ, with paid parking, and a concrete Freeway-style ramp
    to access it, doing away with the historic bridge. Woe is us! Why do we let the monied push us around and make us pay the $50 million for this “improvement?” Enjoy MOPA and its wonderful “ pay what you can” policy—while you can. Unless you can join the tourists and “scooter” in.

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