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How have the photographs in the Stewart Bale collection survived?

young lady wearing a white lab coat and rubber gloves carefully cleaning a large glass plate negative with a fine brush

A conservator working on one of the Stewart Bale collection negatives

The surviving 195,000 large plate glass and film negatives of the Stewart Bale photographic collection were acquired by National Museums Liverpool in 1986.

Many were in poor condition, dirty, water damaged, mouldy or cracked. Our curators and conservators work to preserve these images and make them accessible to you.

The glass plate negatives are fragile, heavy and difficult to handle. A project to clean and re-house them has conserved over 26,000 images so far.

The film negatives are made up of layers of plastic that shrink at different rates. This is known as ‘vinegar syndrome’, due to the odour released as they deteriorate. It causes distortion, which looks like cracked egg shell and makes viewing the image difficult. Recently the whole film collection has been frozen to stop the condition getting worse.