I think I threatened to talk about doing lith prints before, but never actually followed through, probably because I still haven’t gotten a result I’m real happy with yet. I’ve only tried it twice, though, and I am ever hopeful.
Lith printing, for those who don’t know, is a wonderful, weird, magic process that not only imparts color to black and white paper, but also does wonderful, weird, and magic things to the highlights and shadows in your print. For example, here is an example of a good lith print. Magic things have happened to this print!
I like magic, and I like weird, wonderful processes with unpredictable results, so, lith printing, yay! Count me in! I did a little bit of reading about it on the intertubes, and came across this article, weitten by Tim Rudman, who apparently a master lith printer. Seriously, the dude should just walk around wearing a top hat and calling himself Grandmaster Lith. I have no idea what he looks like, so I’ll just imagine that he already does that. Anyway, the article was helpful and informative, and answered the big question that I had, which was, what kind of developer do I need to do this?
The answer is that in order to lith print, you need a magic developer, referred to as an A+B (not to be confused with Diafine, which is a film developer with a part A and part B – it took me a while to realize that Diafine wouldn’t work for lith printing… but maybe? In a heavily diluted formula with film? Has anyone ever tried this?). I digress. Anyway, this developer was designed for graphic arts applications, to be used with ortho lith film. I guess if you develop exposed ortho lith film in A+B developer at the regular concentration level, you get a pure black and white image, with no gray tones whatsoever. I haven’t actually tried this yet, so I’m not speaking from experience here.
But, if you dilute the A+B developer more, like 1:24 instead of 1:6, then you get a weak developer ready to do all sorts of crazy stuff with your image! I’ll let Gradnmaster Lith explain, because he’s far more knowledgeable about this than I am:
The whole process of Lith printing relies on a property of Lith developers known as ‘infectious development’. This is different to the way normal developers develop a black and white image. In simple terms, infectious development means that the darker a tone becomes, the faster it develops. The faster it develops of course, the darker it becomes, and so it develops even faster still. This leads to an explosive chain reaction where the shadow tone development speeds away from the slowly progressing light and mid tones, which lag way, way, behind. The print is ‘snatched’ from the developer when it reaches the point required by the printer.
You have to expose your print differently for lith printing as opposed to making a regular print. Basically, you want to overexpose your image by 2 or 3 stops onto your paper. So, make a contact strip, develop it in some regular paper developer, pick whatever time seems to look the best, double that time, and then double it again. Make your extended exposure onto whatever paper you’re going to try and lith, and then dump it into your diluted A+B developer. Easy, right?
Well, maybe. Because although Grandmaster Lith warns that “fresh lith developer often gives unexciting results,” he doesn’t come out and say, “oh, and by the way, you might want to settle into a comfy chair and listen to an exciting book on tape, because what seems like an eternity will pass before an image appears.” He should have said that, but no, not so much.
So, the first time I gave lith printing a go, I set up the darkroom with boundless enthusiasm, mixed up my lith developer, using, as I always do with black and white prints, room temperature water, exposed my print, and waited.
(insert stock footage here of movie scenes where clocks speed forward, and long taper candles burn down to nubs)
It was dark inside the darkroom. And lonely. I had no idea if the outside world still existed.
I prodded the paper with my tongs, flipped it over and over again, unsure if I had the emulsion side up anymore. I may have wept.
Finally, *finally* after more than a half hour, I got this:
Yeah! Hey, it’s that tree pic! And it looks… brown. Not ethereal or transcendent or anything. Just brown.
I tried again, using different paper. This time, I just said screw it, and actually just up and left the darkroom for about 45 minutes. I came back and saw this hideousness:
All righty then! That whole session was a FAIL! I was bummed, and put the lith stuff away, not to return to it for a while.
What I did do, though, before I packed it in, was save a small amount of used lith developer in a container. Used lith developer is known as “Old Brown,” as if it were a hound dog that periodically shows up on your land and rifles lazily through your trash. “Hey, hon,” you might say with a grudging amount of affection in your voice. “Old Brown is back again.”
“That dog’s trouble.”
And then you’d both watch as Old Brown strolls away from your yard with an empty pizza box in his mouth.
That Old Brown is nothing like this Old Brown. It doesn’t go through your trash, for one thing. Also, it’s a liquid, and lives in a plastic bottle. But, much like how the hound dog Old Brown will periodically kill a gopher that’s been marauding your garden or bark at the weirdos in the car with the 4×5 cameras that want to take a picture of your barn (ahem), the liquid Old Brown might do you a favor, too. Because if you happen to add a bit of Old Brown to your fresh lith developer, it makes your lith prints better! I guess it speeds up the infectious development. Or something. Note: they don’t call me Grandmaster Lith.
So, that’s what I did for the second attempt at lith printing, back in October. I added some Old Brown to my fresh lith developer, and also used a lot warmer water to mix it up. Grandmaster Lith does note, “Again, a wide range of dilutions (and temperatures) may be used for different effects,” and from some other things I read online, other people doing lith prints said they were working with developer around 80 degrees or so.
I had better results the second time.
Okay, nothing too exciting going on there, but at least it was a little toned, and, more importantly, didn’t take an aeon to develop.
This picture and the one at the top of this post were lith printed using old Kodak papers from the 1950s – one of the things that is neat about lith printing is that old, slightly fogged papers can sometimes give awesome results lithed. But probably the result that showed the most promise was done with just a few year old Arista II paper.
I probably should have kept that in the developer for longer – note the dark blacks I was starting to get, but I got paranoid and yanked it. Still, the color is nice, kind of peachy.
Anyway, I’m going to try Epic! Lith Printing! Session! tomorrow again. I’ve got an assortment of different papers I want to try out. Hopefully, I get prints that only take about 7-10 minutes to develop instead of several years. I’ll post the results, providing I get any. And that it doesn’t make me sob in despair.
(Note – I’ve run across these two articles lately, and they might be worth perusing as well.)