Photographer Captures Rain Using Only Photo Paper and Light


What you see here is artwork showing the rain of Hawaii and Northern California. It’s from photographer Klea McKenna‘s project, “Rain Studies,” and shows what rain looks like when you capture it with photo paper and light, rather than a traditional camera.

The pieces are photograms, which are images created directly onto photo-sensitive paper without the use of a camera. You expose an image onto the paper by placing various subjects on/over the paper, and then develop the paper as you would with any other piece of photo paper exposed in the darkroom.

We featured a similar project earlier this year: you may remember Caleb Charland’s beautiful experiments with creating photogram art using a dripping candle.

Each of McKenna’s 20×24-inch gelatin silver photograms was created using a simple list of ingredients: rain, paper, and light. It took McKenna “ages of working outdoors at night before she eventually developed her technique for capturing the rain patters just right.

Here’s a closer look at one of the pieces:


McKenna tells us that the process is still very “hit or miss” due to the fact that “there are just so many subtle variables with the light, the conditions, and the rain itself.”

The project started while she was visiting a childhood home on the big island of Hawaii, and earlier pieces in the series document the heavy tropical rain seen in that state. Later in the series, McKenna started working with the lighter spring rain seen in Northern California.

“Every storm looks different,” she tells us, and the project is “another way to perceive the feeling of a place, through its imprint, its form and abstraction.”








When we asked her about the technique itself, she said that she prefers to remain quiet about the details:

As you can imagine it has taken me a long to time to develop this method and while I am happy to talk about it and share it, I don’t really want to publish all the technical details. Explaining every detail can take a bit of the magic out of the work, which I would rather not do. This work reflects my own sense of wonder and I appreciate eliciting wonder in viewers too. I’m sure you understand. And to be honest, there really is no secret, they are much like traditional photograms and are simply the result of close observation of nature, trial and error and a lot of curiosity and patience.

If you’re extremely curious, you’ll just have to find out with some good ol’ experimentation of your own. Get your darkroom ready, wait for a rainy storm to hit your area, expose some photo paper outside with various sources of light, and then develop the paper to see what comes out!

Head on over to McKenna’s site to see more of these images and to see more of her photographic work.

Rain Studies by Klea McKenna (via Gizmodo)

Image credits: Photographs by Klea McKenna and used with permission

  • dslr video studio

    Really amazing patterns using analogue/traditional photogram techinique.

  • Jason Dunn

    Truly an original work!

  • chubbs

    I love these things, I want to try them all.

  • Opie

    These are pretty great, and I particularly commend the artist for keeping her technique under wraps.

    We seem to be suffering through an era of photography where it’s pretty much expected that any good technique will be parroted by everyone unwilling to think up something of their own. This approach strips the good concepts of their uniqueness and gives us piles and piles of meaningless, derivative junk. Since when does creativity start with someone else’s good idea?

    Each time I put in the blood, sweat, and tears to come up with something I haven’t seen before, someone invariably takes umbrage when I decline to divulge all of the tricks I’ve uncovered.

    So good on you, Klea. Here’s hoping this doesn’t become the next Tumblr trend! :P

  • Yamanoor Srihari

    I love this! Very original. Reminds me of that artist who works with leaves and chlorophyll.

  • Kay O. Sweaver

    As much as I like mystery I think its wrong to say creativity doesn’t start with someone elses’ great idea. Everything anyone comes up with is the product of all the art, ideas and interactions they’ve consumed from others. Art doesn’t emerge in a vacuum.

    Check out the movie Rip: A Remix Manifesto, or better yet study some art history. Its a progression, not a series of spontaneous flashes of magic.

  • Opie

    Of course. I would never say that ideas don’t emerge from one another, or that even the best artists don’t take inspiration from each other. However, the culture that has been nurtured as of late is not one of inspiration and evolution so much as simple trend-following knockoffs.

    To be fair, this sort of copying has always been a part of learning any craft. An artist’s first work is never going to be a fully-developed, completely original idea. But most of these copies were never seen by anyone but the transgressing artist, for he generally knew that his derivative work would be recognized as such. Artists would craft their vision until they were confident that it was unique enough to stand on its own. Unfortunately, websites like Tumblr and Flickr have fostered a strong follow-the-bandwagon approach and have de-incentivized such progress, while websites like this one go so far as to spoon feed us step-by-step directions for how to recreate what we’ve already seen. Even the trial-and-error has been circumvented.

    Obviously there are a lot of blanket statements here. Tons of good work is always being produced; we’re arguably a more creatively prolific culture than we’ve ever been before. But I also think we’re reaching a point where the sheer volume of media means that the noise is getting awfully loud in relation to the signal, and I worry that creativity might soon begin to suffer because of it.

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