France, 1999, Canon EOS 3, Canon 24mm T-SE lens, Agfapan APX 100
1/125 second @ f11, ISO 100, tripod-mounted, no filter
Tim Rudman mastered lith printing. In fact, Tim is a masterful photographer in all aspects of the art and craft, each of his carefully composed and exquisitely processed prints an invaluable lesson in contemporary photography, whether for the darkroom or the computer.
Tim wrote several definitive books on lith printing and toning. His approach and techniques allowed darkroom workers to produce much more repeatable results, although in my experience, there was still a wonderful degree of variability. Sometimes this variability was a blessing in disguise, but on other occasions merely a frustrating experience!
Lith printing for me was still very variable, meaning I never really knew what the result would be. Used in the graphic arts and pre-press industries to create tonal dropouts and line art, it wasn’t really designed for pictorial photography with shades of grey. However, if you pulled (removed) the print out of the developer solution at precisely the right moment, you could produce results with remarkable tonality.
Of course, it wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds. First you had to mix the developer to the correct concentration. Then you needed to keep it at the correct temperature. And with each print you put through the lith developer, its potency changed, meaning the next print would be a
Pulling the print out at just the right time was a matter of inspection. Under a dim red darkroom light, you would peer into the developer tray as you sloshed the lith developer over the print. Nothing would happen for ages and then suddenly, within a matter of five to ten seconds, the print would turn black where it had been exposed. The trick was to pull the print out as the image was turning black, so you kept the mid tones. The best part about lith printing was that the mid tones weren’t grey, they were a range of pinks and oranges, depending on a number of variables.
Today, reproducing a lith print technique is very challenging. It’s a part of The New Tradition that has been lost unless you do it the old way. Yes, you can create images with a digital workflow that imitate some aspects of a lith print, but nothing I have found to date does it quite the same. Perhaps that’s a challenge for the future.
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