Positive Negatives

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Opening drawers at the Peabody can occasionally lead to a surprise discovery. Recently, approximately 400 acetate negatives were discovered in an “empty” card catalog.

A little investigation revealed that these negatives include the original photographs from Alfred V. Kidder’s The Pottery of Pecos, Volume I. You can see these photos in Kidder’s publication here. The remaining negatives were of photos that Richard “Scotty” MacNeish took during his time at the Peabody, and they range from Canadian artifacts to materials from the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico.

Acetate film, also known as safety film, was introduced by Kodak in the 1930s. Designed to replace nitrate negatives, which can spontaneously combust, acetate was in use for decades. The acids in the film, however, can deteriorate over time and emit a strong vinegar odor, an issue known as vinegar syndrome. The recently discovered negatives are in the early stages of vinegar syndrome.

IMG_3904
Image of a bowl from Pecos

We are working to preserve these negatives and have already sent approximately one-third of them to the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) for digitization. The NEDCC will capture high-resolution images from the negatives and adjust them to create robust image files. The digitization process should be complete by the end of February.

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