The power of rain as both metaphor and visual element has made it a singular and enduring motif, if not an outright theme, in photography. Certainly, the modernist movement has done more with rainy days and the challenges of rainy exposures than the 19th-century pioneers of the camera may have envisioned, focused as they were on achieving clarity of composition amid long exposure times in an effort to document reality in some idealized state or other (with any number of atmospheric exceptions, such as Brady's Civil War photography).
Indeed, rain may be the great modernist symbol, standing in so well for timeless emotions, psychological realities and political challenge. Rain is the poetic value that implies the persistence of memory, the world's remonstrance, life's struggles, and our primordial source, keeping us grounded, in its way, to our humble earthly existence. In this exhibit, and in the hands of these mostly modern and postmodern photographers, rain-themed images function with formal and metaphoric grace, transcending the clichés of slickened streets and stormy skies to focus, always, on illuminating some specific space, time, person, mood or moment that is inextricably linked to the rain's elemental essence.
Thus, photographers as contemporary as that Czech artist of urban edginess, Stanko Abadzic (as well as his Czech forerunners, Eric Einhorn and Antonin Gribovsky), or a master of staggering landscape images, Mitch Dobrowner, capture the micro and macro aspects of rainy days (and nights) in ways that allow is to feel the humid moments and the human interactions that are only amplified by the rain. For these artists, the reflective, and/or misty extra dimension imposed by precipitation becomes another character in their unforced dramas of shadow, light, natural and architectural form. This also applies to classic modernists and photojournalists such as Brassai, Adolph Fritz and Geza Vandor, with their European iconography that evoke so much, especially in the rainiest moments.
While the modern masters may make the most of their rainy days, this exhibit also reminds us that there are any number of earlier vintage works that met the challenge of the rain. In 1870, for example, albumen prints from Henri Tournier's wet plate negatives explored the contrasts between sunlight and rain in Bretagne's ancient streets. And at the pre-modern edge of the 20th century, in 1907, Robert L. Sleeth--a gifted amateur from Pittsburgh--caught rainy images of his growing city that combine rich atmosphere with beautifully composed documentation. It's evident from this small but rich survey that the stark, black-and-white beauty of rainy day photography represents one of the medium's great traditions, and something much more than a genre or style: at its best, it becomes a mode of heightened perception.