EMERGING PHOTOGRAPHERS

Susan De Witt on Lith Photography

David J. Carol


lith large

© SUSAN DE WITT 2014



Susan de Witt takes some of the most mysterious photographs I've ever seen. Her work ranges from beautiful, delicate and soft portraits to eerie and surreal images that are almost undefinable. Her unique photographs fascinate and draw me in. While viewing her images I often feel like I'm traveling back in time and wish I could enter her surreal world. I not only think the work is compelling but I'm interested in her process too. Here's what Susan de Witt has to say. 

DC- So the obvious first question is...What is Lith Photography?

SDW- To put it very simply, lith printing is a darkroom printing technique wherein you heavily overexpose your negative under the enlarger and then develop it in a very dilute developing bath, using an A+B lith developer.  The image may take 20 minutes or longer to develop, depending upon the dilution, the paper and what color socks you are wearing that day.  Your choice of paper and developer brand can give you completely different results from the same negative.  There are both warm-toned papers and cold-toned papers.  The warm papers will give you a more delicate rendition on the final print, with naturally occurring hues that range from peaches, pinks, coffee, and cream.  Cold-toned papers will give you a much grittier end result, with usually very little tonality showing, except black and white.  Unfortunately the digital explosion has caused many paper companies to cut back or end the production of lithable papers, so it gets more difficult all the time to find papers that will give you a good lith result.  

DC- I love how your pictures mix beauty with what many people might consider a dark, gritty and possibly eerie process. What is this look all about?

SDW- If you look through my images, you will find examples of the warmer, more delicate photographs along with examples of the much more grainy cold photographs.  With each new negative that I want to print, I usually try it out with both types of paper to see which result I prefer and then I’ll go from there and work it until I find a good end result.  Clearly the grainier paper works well for my eerier shots, giving an otherworldliness to them that I can’t achieve with the warmer papers, or even with traditional B&W silver gelatin printing.  That being said, I can also achieve a more nostalgic, romantic look by using the warmer papers.  

DC- What was your first "serious" camera and what kind of photos did you take with it?

SDW- I’ve been seriously involved with my photography since the year 2000.  One day I had walked into a gallery on the coast where I saw some amazing photographs, like nothing I had seen before.  I decided there and then that I must learn to do that!  I signed up for classes the following week and went right out and bought my first serious camera, which I still use primarily today.  It’s a Nikon F5.  A few years later I bought a medium format camera, Contax 645.  The photos I shot in those days was all a huge learning curve for me, shooting still life, people, street shots - anything and everything.  I was trying to perfect everything then, whereas today I try to alter it and make it into something that it’s not.  

DC- You're work brings to mind a mysterious and dream like trip into the past. If you could time travel what time period would you go to, what location and what would you want to photograph?

SDW- If indeed I could travel back in time, then do I get to change my age as well??  That would be great.  Okay so then first of all I’d change my age back about 40 years, so I would have a better grip on things and more energy to do major photo shoots.   As someone who loves to study fashion and the ever-changing trends, I think I would be most happy to have lived in Paris in the 40s and 50s, where I would have extravagant setups with beautiful fashion models dressed in the finest elegant clothing.  A wonderful dream..

DC- Last question, what would be the ideal path for your career over the next 10 years?

SDW- I find this a tough question to answer, since I am someone who lives for today and I try not to think too far ahead.  If I could hope for one thing that would be ideal, it would be that I produce a photography book with my favorite images in it.  Perhaps that sounds like a small goal, but it would make me happy to have something concrete on the coffee table that I could look through, tangible evidence of my photographic life.  







All images © Susan de Witt 2014 

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