San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts typically has a blend of universally beloved images, pop appeal, and the kind of things that appeal to photo nerds (archival images, new technology, etc.). On a previous visit I remember seeing exhibits of a National Geographic photographer next to a member of Crosby, Stills and Nash, as well as a series of large format digital works. When I stopped by in early January 2015, it was all group exhibits; work shot by high schoolers, archival work from the 19th Century, and Czech photographers from the mid-20th Century.
I really went for the Czech images, with their mixture of history, classiness, repression, fine tonality and surreal subject matter. I learned every Czech photographer included a portrait of the most famous local photographer, Josef Koudelka, in their portfolio; that the repressive and conservative natures of the Communist governments made photographing nudes so difficult that they naturally led to distortions and shadowy forms.
You come away feeling that even if these photos- all shot from the 1930s through 1960s- where in color, they’d still be grey. It’s the kind of darkroom photography that has an emotional punch in a way that modern, high production style photography doesn’t.
Of the other gallery shows, the high schoolers’ photos had some interesting content (mainly snippets of their family lives, hence the name “We Are Family”) while the archival images would appeal to lovers of technically spot-on photography- lovers of print techniques and large depths of field. Of the current shows, I most heartily recommend the Czech work, which blends concepts with techniques in works that double as historical secrets revealed.
“Collective Restraint,” “We Are Family,” and “New Visions: Art and Invention of the 19th Century” are on display at MOPA in Balboa Park, San Diego, through the first week of February.
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