What is Lith

making silver blush

Lith is an altered darkroom procedure. Lith printing is done by using a high contrast, very active, easily exhausted developer, originally formulated to process film, as a paper developer. At one time (’60-’72) Kodak made a lith paper for use in confirming the dot and size of litho film – the stuff used for halftone lithography – notice the name.

As photography moved from the commercial to the fine art as a means of income; as it became a studio practice in colleges, artists took on prior products and processes in the practice of an artist. They retrieved, re-purposed commercial conceits for esthetic effect.

Counter Culture

Kodalith paper and  developer satisfied the need an urge for a printer affect for a printmaking aesthetic. It produces a high contrast image that is warm tone, having an altered tone response that is counter to the Adams-Westen F.64 look and feel.

Warm is old timey… sepia suggests authentic & old. Making an image that holds that aura while achieving an altered printed tone range seemed new. This satisfied counterculture drive for alternative ways of seeing portraying and subverting standardized commercial response

What Does Lith

making silver blush

Look Like

This is where the roads part. One trail leads to glorious sunburst, as the other emphasizes modest color shift with abrupt tone contrasts. Kodalith paper was warm tone that would turn yellow if the developing time was extended. This extended development was usually to overcome too little exposure, and/or exhausted developer.

The rows in the graphic are:

  1. papers no longer in production.. Brovira, Cykora, Kodalith paper
  2. current (2017) warmtone papers: Ilford MG warmtone / Foma Fomatone / Slavich Bromoportrait
  3. current (2017) coldtone papers: Slavich, Foma Fomabrom, Adox Lupex (contact chloride paper)


What Does It Solve

To weekend zoners it is novelty – a reason to “do it in the dark,” or “keep film alive.” These are the red-light workers acting on such advice as: Lith printing can breathe a whole new life into an everyday image — 

Lith printing was revived and is championed by several onliners and book pushers. This monetizable interest comes from the weekenders reaching retirement age; discovering need for awakening tired original negatives, they proceeded to alter the soup of their print.

These photographers are the same ones disparaging digital photographers’ making push-button plugin pictures. Neither technology makes meaningful, nor meaningless images. The lack of visual understanding is the shortcoming each actor is unaware of in their struggle to realize meaning.

I use lith to enrich the shades of grey available with current papers. Altering the underlying tonal quality providing a small variation of skadesics, thereby increasing the  visible shades without reducing contrast. Simple: I get bigger mid tones.

What Do I Need

Just the standard darkroom conditions. I’ve posted specifics in the following referenced links (this site). Use a paper such as Foma Fomatone & Moersch Lith Developer. You must use a stop bath — water bath will just frustrate you with likely staining. My standard fixer is Ilford Hypam 1+9.

easy bake starting point:

  • 120 neg in Beseler 45MCRX
  • lens wide open
  • 16 second exposure
  • Moersch Lith: 30,30,800 for 7 minutes development
  • when it looks good ::: snatch into citric stop bath (NO INDICATOR DYE)
  • flip print over, pull from stop, quickly into fixer
  • fix for standard (read paper instructions) time (5-8 minutes)
  • wash



blog posts on lith

Following Old Trails

following another’s footsteps makes you a tourist not a guide

Arriving Late

You may miss the plot, the arc of what came before, and think the ending is the story.


You begin in the footsteps of others; you walk behind them before you make your own path. you follow their path, retaking their footsteps, you learn how to do it: you follow the technical. the technical, if it’s amidol and azo, lead you into a narrowing market space; an expensive place in which you have to solve technical and  the economic, before you can set yourself free enough to solve your own problems; the problems that you define. This dalliance keeps the romance without requiring esthetic commitment. To keep yourself from realizing this, you rationalize the affair, calling it Printmaking.

The Printmaker Excuse

thinking that the problem to solve is just a printmaker one, your task becomes making yourself into a printmaker. this is codeword for saying you don’t have to have an image concept, an origin aesthetic; rely upon an aesthetic concept that’s been done. You can follow the prepared guidebook. Picture types come prepared with payment. you already know what you’re going to point the camera at. Maybe a rock, or sunset, a girl..

How bout a girl on a rock at sunset

massArtistsLF.001Unless you are a Carnie. Most long time participants in online photo forums limit their discussion to method and technique. They never understand this limits their growth. Carnie is one longtime dedicated participant. He serves as archtypical printmaker. As he notes: Now I just have to think of a subject.


Simple Complex

The simplified process of Weston becomes a complicated process without a manufacture. Mistaking the wand for the magic. No one bemoans the end of Weston’s light bulb, neither do they ask the type of contact frame used. Charis on a dune, with perfect drop shadow is more important than bulb, camera, developer, or paper. Translation is never better by reading a more accurate dictionary.

Take What You Need

Rather than taking from Weston the specifics, take the general, the bigger constant — work simply, but work a lot. Use what is at hand until it runs out. Then find another.

What Weston did was point his camera well. He, also, was first on the calendar; it was his footprint you saw on the dune. If you’re going to follow, follow the awareness, not the technical.  that is the artist’s move, not the salesman’s gambit.

References & Notes

early printing was platinum requiring contact prints, which he abandoned when it became scares and expensive. He switched to Azo and Amidol in California. [Newhall 1984, p. 110.]

  • weston bad portrait studio .. retail portraits need retouching . big neg makes easier
  • contact prints on slow paper
  • paper no longer produced
  • weston switches paper, but keeps camera
  • improves exposure quickly adopting Weston meter. more single negative exposures. cheaper, easier field work.. more images
  • At Pt Lobos he worked on the edge of the coast.. a long distant horizontal — down was detail, up was the line — the distance marker.

webionaire links AMIDOL CHLORIDE PAPER

[3 of 3: Nov 10, 17]