Duplicate, solarize and merge two negatives in a single final print to create abstract and painterly effects with film.
I discovered the initial concept in a how-to photography manual: The Book Of Color Photography by Adrian Bailey and Adrian Holloway (1979). This process requires access to a RA-4 color print processor, as well as the appropriate color print paper. Essential is Ortho Litho film, also called Orthochromatic Film. I will often refer to it simply as “litho”. Certainly, it is familiar to most alternative process photographers but to those who are not familiar with it, “litho” is a multi format black and white film, that is also dark room red light safe. It’s to be handled in the same manner as standard black and white photo print paper. Traditionally, it is used as a high contrast graphic aid, with a designated developer that results in ultra contrast solid blacks and clear areas. However with black and white film developers, one can create continuous tones: a huge, full spectrum of greys.
It is available online from several suppliers including Freestyle Photographic Supplies (Freestyle Photographic Supplies – Traditional Black & White Film, Paper, Chemicals, Holgas and ULF) and Ultrafine (UltraFineOnLine Photo Warehouse).
The basic method
Begin with film, any format, whether it’s a positive slide or a negative, color or black and white. Happily, Ortho Litho is available in many sizes and can be cut down to accommodate all film dimensions. Contact print it onto an equal size of fresh Ortho Litho film under darkroom safe light conditions. That is, you place them together, firmly, under heavy glass with the original on the top and expose them together under the enlarger. You will need to bracket to determine a pleasing exposure, whatever looks detailed and readable.
You can then treat the Ortho Litho copy as you would any black and white print: after exposure: develop, wash and dry it to result in a duplicate that is also the exposure opposite of the original. For example, if you began with a color slide, the Ortho Litho copy will be a black and white negative. I use a range of different black and white print developers. This choice can be determined with experimentation.
Right away you have an interesting effect by combining the original image with it’s litho duplicate in a negative carrier and exposing them to C-print color paper. Develop it accordingly as a color print with RA-4 chemistry. Below is an example of the results of each of the preceding steps:
This is the original image. It was made in a large pet food container pinhole camera by placing 2 sheets of 8 in by 10 inch chrome film side by side.
I contact printed these onto the same size of an unexposed sheet of Ortho Litho, and developed it to create a black and white negative copy:
I aligned them together and put them on top of an unexposed sheet of color print paper (also the exact size as the 2 sheets: 8 in. by 10 in.)
Below is the resulting print, developed in RA-4 chemistry in a color print processor:
The following image, I made with a very underexposed color negative layered on top of an Ortho Litho copy of it. That is, a color negative and a Ortho Litho positive of the same image. The scratches are from the negative sleeve that I kept on the negative while I contact printed it on the Ortho Litho. The 2 are then projected onto C-print color print paper and processed in RA-4 chemistry. It is a lens camera capture of the interior of a house in Bodie, a California ghost town.
This image, that I call “Blue Pears ” is the result on aligning a color positive on top of it’s litho ‘mate’ that was a black and white negative.
Solarization of the litho copy
To further experiment:
This procedure results in a full color print from exposing the black and white medium of the Litho onto color print paper. The 1st step is to solarize the Ortho Litho copy while I’m developing it. Since Ortho Litho is darkroom safelight tolerant, you can observe this process as it happens. To begin, make a litho copy of the original as explained in the preceding steps. Expose it to a fresh sheet of litho in the enlarger, then immerse it in a weak developer for a few seconds. Diluted or exhausted chemistry is best because it slows down development, giving you time to see the solarization process.
As the tones darken, flash it with weak light for perhaps a second, perhaps longer depending on the strength of the chemistry. Carefully watch for the tones to alter more. My light sources vary and you will need to explore this individually, anything from flashlights to strobes, even candlelight can have an effect.
As soon as you see an interesting turning or reversal of the tones, plunge it into water to stop further developing. It can go sour very fast, meaning it can over darkened and become unreadable. It is a chaotic method, you’ll know what you want when you see it, but it can also be a lot of fun.
Once this solarized version is fixed and dried, it can be ‘mated’ with the original as well and printed together onto a final color print. I also make other Ortho litho copies of the copies and pair them for final color prints. The mixing and matching of originals, Ortho Litho copies and solarized ‘mates’ is endless.
Below is an example of the steps in a solarized version:
This is the original capture, in this case, it’s a 4 in by 5 in. pinhole image, exposed and developed normally:
This is the Ortho Litho copy, solarized:
This is the composite of the 2 printed on C-print paper:
The solarization of the Ortho Litho copy can abstract an image immensely. The following is another print from a large format color positive film pinhole capture:
below are 3 solarized versions of litho copies of it, I did not include the original capture in these but printed only the solarized litho on color print paper. There will be color visible in the litho film after solarization but it is enhanced by the RA-4 chemistry and the print paper:
The following image was made from several original black and white 35 mm negatives that I took in sequence to create a panorama of the Inyo White mountain range in eastern California. I contact printed the entire batch onto a fresh sheet of Ortho Litho film. I then solarized this copy and layered it onto the original and printed them together onto color print paper. I scanned the prints in Photoshop to assembled them together.