Riverside’s Best Kept Secret – The California Museum of Photography
Nestled in the heart of downtown Riverside, the California Museum of Photography is one of the city’s best kept secrets. Housed in a converted power plant, the museum is home to a world-class collection of over 200,000 historic and contemporary photographs. And best of all, admission is free!
The museum traces its roots back to 1884 when it was founded as the Riverside Art Association. In those early days, the focus was on promoting local artists and hosting exhibitions of their work. In fact, some of Riverside’s most important early civic leaders were members of the association, including future mayor Frank Miller and noted philanthropist Henry E. Huntington.
As the 20th century dawned, the focus shifted from fine art to photography and in 1909 the name was changed to the Riverside Camera Club. The club members were passionate amateurs who gathered regularly to share their work and exchange ideas. They also began publishing a monthly magazine called “Camera Craft” which featured some of the best photographic work being done in Southern California at the time.
In 1963, the club donated its collection of over 12,000 prints and negatives to the University of California, Riverside. The university established the California Museum of Photography on campus to house and care for the growing collection. In 2004, the museum moved off-campus into its current location in downtown Riverside.
Today, the museum is recognized as one of the premier institutions devoted to photography in the country. It boasts an impressive collection of historic images documenting Southern California’s transformation from a rural backwater into a bustling metropolis. There are also extensive holdings of works by internationally-renowned photographers such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange. The museum also has a vigorous program of temporary exhibitions featuring both up-and-coming photographers and established masters.