What would you do, if one morning, you went to pull out that old box of family photographs and discovered every one of them had faded completely. To make matters worse, a distinct smell of something sour, much like vinegar, begins to fill the room. The familiar envelope that has guarded the visual history of several generations of loved ones no longer contains the negatives you cherished. Those black and white negatives have decomposed into a gooey sludge of acetic acid. All gone, never again to bring life to the past. What would you do to get them back? The negative on the right is 66 years old. Reagan's newsstand 1938. The emulsion is separating from the acetate film. A good example of the problem.



Unfortunately, every negative produced between the early 1900’s and 1980’s on cellulose acetate film is at risk. The average life span of these negatives is only 65 years! I have experienced this decay first hand. Six negatives of early 1928 Houston are lost forever. The images only remain in memory of the Italian festival along Buffalo Bayou. The negatives liquefied in the protective sleeves they were stored in. Now pause a moment to think. What about all those millions of negatives in our libraries and Universities? The University of Texas alone holds over 350,000 negatives from the popular Bailey Brothers Houston studio. Their photography  captured Houston’s growth from the early 1930’s through the 1980’s in a remarkable visual medium. But how long will they last? What we all have taken for granted regarding the permanence of photography is about to slap us in the face. What will happen to the Bailey Collection? What will happen to the photographic archives in our local museums and libraries? The clock is ticking and time is running out.