Mad Dogs And Englishmen


Please note – while the title of this essay might suggest a Noel Coward song, I am neither a mad dog, an Englishman, or Noel Coward. Hence I am inside the house in a cool room typing on the keyboard.

I abandoned the workshop in my shed when the temperature reached 40º Celsius at 11:00 o’clock this morning. The shed traps heat as it has two fibreglass skylights and until the West Australian sea breeze – the ” Fremantle Doctor ” –  come in the temperature just keeps climbing. It will be habitable again after the sun goes down and I can continue my project of making a coffee stand.

The reason this topic has penetrated to the photography column is because of the dependency of photography on temperature. In the past it was critical for the chemistry and now it is critical for the electronics. Not in the same way:


a. When I did B/W processing in North America in winter it was all I could do to heat a darkroom sufficiently to get the temperature of the developing and fixing solutions up to 20º Celsius to match the charts that were packed with the chemicals. The thermostat in most of the school or newspaper darkrooms in January was set permanently to Methodist Charity and it was all you could do to prevent the oil from freezing in your personal crankcase.

b. When I did B/W processing here in Australia in summer it was all I could do to get the temperature DOWN to 20º Celsius for the same chemistry. Air temperature at 39º Celsius means that the water supply is even too hot to process film. I had to float ice cubes in the tanks in plastic bags just prior to the developer to get any consistent temperature.

c. Conversely, the air temperature in summer was a great help for colour developing – either C-41 or RA-4- – on some days I didn’t even need a water bath to ensure the tanks were at a constant 38º Celsius. All I had to do was get the chemistry mixed and let the air temperature do the rest. The fact that I was dancing around inside the darkroom wearing nothing but a pair of shorts is neither here nor there – I’ve seen pictures of Japanese sailors in submarines dressed in the same way. It was a darkroom – no-one saw me.

d. When summer came the last two computers used to write these columns used to grow red-hot in the middle of the day. I now find that it was a defect of design, and the new computer does not have this flaw…yet…I think it would still benefit from some form of cooling, and so would this typist. I suspect that the craze for ever-smaller devices with ever-sleeker casings is the culprit. Ye canna change the laws of physics, Cap’n, despite the designers wanting to make the things look like silver biscuits.

Note in most of these cases the comfort and safety of the photographer came off a poor second to the requirements of the art. I suppose that shows dedication – or stupidity. And to be fair I have aged just about as well as the negatives and prints – albeit with fewer scratches and fungus.


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