KHEM: essay by Linsey Gosper


KHEM, Strange Neighbour Gallery, Fitzroy until 3 May.

Khem; a possible derivative of the word alchemy, the native name of Egypt, is thought to mean black. Some scholars maintain that Khem is derived from a root meaning wise. 1

Alchemy is described as chemistry endowed with magic, and alchemists as those who work with metals and keep these operations secret.2 Apart from the obvious associations of working with metals (silver) and chemistry, there are more subtle and intimate parallels between the art and science of alchemy and darkroom practice.

It is common among darkroom practitioners to consider the process as ‘magic’. When most people encounter printing their first photograph in the darkroom, the simple sight of an image appearing on the paper in the developer tray seems ‘magical’. Even experienced darkroom practitioners never lose this special feeling. Exhibiting artist, Siri Hayes notes, Watching images come up in developing tray is as mysterious and exciting as any magic show. Perhaps more so as there are no tricks except that the photographic product is the grandest of illusions.

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