Notes from the darkroom

I wanted to share a little bit about my (Gretchen) process in the darkrooom.  For this series, we have chosen to go with a “lith’ printing process.  A little bit about that process: it requires heavy over-exposure of the paper, followed by development in very diluted, lith-specific developer.

Unlike typical black and white developers, the lith-specific developers have a property known as “infectious development”.  What this means is that the darker tones on the paper will develop faster, which in turn means they become darker still, and develop even faster still.  The shadows develop far faster than the mid tones or highlights.  Because of this, it is exposure time which determines the mid- and high-tone values, while development time determines the dark-tones.

In addition to this consideration, the freshness or dilution of the developer also plays a role in how the final image image appears.  Fresh developer, as well as more concentrated/less diluted developer, yield less colorful tones.  The more used or diluted the developer is, the more colorful the prints become.

Then, beyond exposure, development time, and developer dilution, each paper seems to “lith” differently.  The way the shadows are rendered, the tones the paper takes on, all seem to vary depending on manufacturer.

Below are some examples to illustrate this process:

Above is the first print I made with the batch of developer I mixed.  I used Fomatone warmtone matte paper.  It was exposed for approximately 50 seconds; not quite long enough to bring in some of the lighter midtones.  Because of the dilution/freshness of the developer, as well as my exposure time, this print is high contrast and not very colorful.

The above was the second print made, also on Fomatone warmtone matte paper.  I knew I wanted to pull more color into the print, so I diluted my developer a little more.  I also exposed for a minute rather than 50 seconds.  Having more diluted developer gave me more control over the “infectious” development process, so I was able to pull some more mid-tones into the print without the shadow detail becoming all black.  Exposing for slightly longer probably also helped.

The above was printed on Slavich Unibrom.  This paper’s grain looks totally different when it is lithed, almost like streaks or lines rather than pointilism dots (which is the type I noticed with both Fomatone and Ilford Multigrade Warmtone).  I do quite like this grain, but perhaps for a much brighter image; the shadow detail seems to get more lost than with other papers.  A side-note: this paper also took by far the longest to develop, even at longer exposure times.

This last image was printed in nearly-exhausted developer towards the end of my darkroom session, on Fomatone.  Both this and the previous image from the same negative were exposed for the same amount of time (50 seconds), you can see how radically different the grain structure is, as well as the the details visible.

Anyway.  This whole photo series is an incredible learning opportunity for me, as it necessitates that I learn a completely new print developing skillset in order to print the images in the way I feel is most aesthetically in-line with our project.  This lith process will give me the flexibility to make my prints more harsh or soft, more colorful or colorless, more grainy or delicate, depending on the negative I’m printing and where it fits into our story.

Lilith: Myth to Flesh is a collaborative project undertaken by performance artist Luna Duran and photographer Gretchen Heinel.  By undergoing ordeals of the flesh, we aim to understand and communicate the sacred and transformative pain which Lilith endured on her journey from human to goddess.