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I'm Creating a Crechemania virtual museum—but is Big Brother watching?

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I'm working on vintage nativities for Crechemania.com's virtual museum galleries. So why am I getting this ominous pop-up messages?


Creating a Web Virtual Museum means sharing beautiful sheets, like this Italian vintage nativity in three folios. Amazingly, age has not dimmed its colors. (Svatava Vizinová Zábrdské Betlémy Collection.)
 
No way, no how: why is Photoshop not only refusing to open this image, but presenting me with troubling messages? (Svatava Vizinová Zábrdské Betlémy Collection.) 
I know that I'm not alone in being extremely concerned about the deterioration of our prized nativities and paper models. And I'm not talking about our treasured vintage nativities, but also the Crechemania.com Downloads that so many of us print on the best available paper and lovingly assemble.

"I have now over 160 crèches in two showcases in the hall," writes Annelies de Kort in a message to the Crèche Guild. "I just saw the new crèche Carolyn donated. I am so pleased with it. I certainly will make this one in miniature. Carolyn, thank you very much, you did a great job.

"Although no direct sunlight reaches my crèches, most of them have been bleached over the years. I am afraid that, after printing them, I got so anxious to make them that I often have forgotten to spray them with a protecting spray.
I use Talens protecting spray for gouaches. That works fine ( if you do not forget it), but perhaps there are other suggestions?"

Best wishes,
Annelies de Kort


Crèche Guild member Adrienne Morrison offered a thoughtful response to Annelies sun-bleaching/fading problem under the heading UV Damage: "Light damage is the number one enemy of paper ephemera," she writes. "The name says it all: ephemera(l),"short-lived, passing.

"The only way to preserve the colors is to protect them from light. They should be stored in an acid-free, light-proof box. Some of the newer inks promise longevity, but we have no way of knowing how good that claim is. There are certain UV-blocking glass & films that can be used to protect light-sensitive things, but as the Northeast Document Conservation Center says:
All light is damaging. The higher the light levels, the greater the potential danger. Sources rich in ultraviolet (UV) radiation are especially hazardous. Because light damage is cumulative, even low levels can degrade paper if the exposure is long enough.
"I know that is not the answer you want to hear, but that is the reality. Their recommendation of copying the item and displaying the copy is the best, I think. Sprays will add a little time, but the best thing is still to hide them away.

"I hope that helps you. Thank you, by the way, for all your generous shares to the group, Annelies."

Very truly yours, Adrienne Morrison, Washington State

"The joy of paper nativities is to display and enjoy them," I responded, "not hide them in dark drawers. But, of course Adrienne is right: as photographer, I never thought I'd say this, but, in fading images, light is the enemy.

"Colorfastness deterioration also depends on humidity and paper composition. In fact, working with nativity sheets, I have found the paper's acidic content—not light—the cause of image degradation.

"As Adrienne noted, the colorfastness promised by some papers and inks is sometimes questionable, and dependent on many factors.

"Most companies, for example, measure fading by measuring the deterioration of a framed print, under glass, in what the call, 'normal indoor conditions.' This usually means a 'brightly lit room.' But other companies may use a less bright room—to boost their lightfastness ratings.

"So there's no surprise that there can be a great discrepancy in these ratings. Epson's Matte Paper Heavyweight—which I love for printing and constructing nativities because of its card-stock and its print qualities—is rated 30 years for colorfastness with Photo Dye, 105 years with DURABrite Ink.

"The bottom line? For me, it's what our friend Antonio Garcia and his friends at Grupo de Tebeos-Classicos is doing in Spain. "We're scanning them all," he writes, "in an effort to preserve them."

A run-in with Big Brother?

Crechemania.com and Crèche Guild Members well know my long-standing commitment to sharing and preservation.

Long before I had the pleasure of meeting Antonio and his God-blessed work, I have scanning vintage nativities in order to preserve them. And, when scanning is not an option, there's my 22 megapixel camera.

So it will probably will come as no surprise to you that I returned from my recent trip to the Czech Republic with tens of 8-megabyte chips full of images. Milan Zábranský, František Karas, Jiřina Hánová, Zdeněk Peer, and Svatava Vizinová all generously shared their collections.

So here I was, my iView catalog brimming with 862 images just from my trip to Svatava's Zábrdské Betlémy Museum, double-clicking on L' Étable de Bethléem (The Stable at Bethlehem), a vintage French nativity sheet.

But, instead of Photoshop CS5 opening the image, it oepned a pop-up window instead:
This application does not support the editing of banknote images. For more information, select the information button below for Internet-based information on restrictions for copying and distributing banknote images or go to www.rulesforuse.org.
What?

Is this a practical joke, perpetrated by Benjamin, who gained access to my computer to have some fun?

The pop-up contained two buttons: one, "Cancel," was useless. The other, "Information," took me to a "Banknotes & counterfeit Detterrence" page: "Every country has legal restrictions on the reproduction of banknote images. The counterfeiting of currency is a crime, and while restrictions vary from country to country, in some countries, any reproduction of banknote images – even for artistic or advertising uses – is strictly forbidden…"

I still didn't get it. What do paper nativities have to do with counterfeiting?


I know you'll agree that sharing incredible art like this was worth all my troubles! (Svatava Vizinová Zábrdské Betlémy Collection.)
I knew I had to call Adobe, and was promptly was transferred to… You guessed it, India.

"Hello, this is Mike," said a friendly voice with a very thick accent, "how can I help you?"

Mike sure didn't sound like a Mike to me, but what did it matter? I knew that companies often assign foreign-based help desk personnel American-sounding names to make the encounter a friendlier one.

Mike wanted name, rank, and serial number, ahem, I mean name, Company name, and Photoshop serial number—before he would even listen to my problem.

Well, I don't remember the last time I installed a program on my computers myself! So I tell Mike to please wait, and since I don't think my primitive cell does conference calling, I boot up Skype and talk to our great IT guy, Jason.

Through my portable computer's speaker, Jason is now reciting the serial number, and I'm relating it back to Mike on my cell. That done, Mike spends a few minutes looking up my serial number. When he's satisfied that I am who I say I am, he wants to know our company's name, telephone number, and street address.

That said, more minutes roll by. "I'll be right back," Mike says, as his computer grinds away to check the information I have given him.

At long last he's back on the line: "Now," what seems to be the problem?" he asks.

"I've shot all these paper nativities in Europe," I begin…

"What did you say? What is that?"

Can you image trying to explain to Mike about Crechemania.com—even spelling it was not easy—and that, in trying to open a vintage nativity sheet you got that ominous-sounding prompt from could have come from the Secret Service for all I knew!

Mike valiantly tried to take it all in, but it was in vain. "Sir," he said, "I'll have to check with my supervisor about this serous matter; I'll be right back."

More minutes tick by. I look at my watch. Half an hour has passed, and I have a dentist appointment (no kidding!) across town in half an hour.

"Sir, before I can proceed I have to take control of your computer and look at the image you're trying to open."

Now, I know better than to allow anyone, let alone some guy in a foreign country—was Mike a Photoshop guy, really?—access to my computer. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and, taking an oath never to let on to Benjamin, I clicked OK on the pop-up on my window—and there was Mike enjoying nativities galore at the other end of the world.

Believe me, it's the weirdest feeling seeing your cursor moving as if by a ghost, realizing that this guy could at any moment wipe my hard disk clean. But, thank the Lord, Mike really was who he said he was. He perused the iView catalog, scanning from image 1 to 862, and then he said, "I see what the problem is."

"You do? What is it?"

"You've been photographing twenty dollar bills."

Oh, my God! How could I have been so blind? While at Svatava's, in order to determine scale, I had pulled a twenty-dollar bill out of my pocket, and had placed it along side the nativity sheet I was shooting. Sometimes, all you could see was just part of the number 20—but it was enough for Photoshop to recognize bank currency, and not open the file.

"So what do I do?" I asked, thinking that Mike, satisfied with my innocent mistake of using money as a yardstick would now give me a secret code to overcome Photoshop's objection.

In the iView catalog, Mike double clicks on the L' Étable de Bethléem image—yikes, this guy still has control of computer!—and the Camera Raw window opens.

Then he does something that made me feel really dumb: he selects that window's crop tool, crops the image just inside the twenty dollar bill, and clicks "Open Image."

I don't think Ali Baba's mouth was more agape seeing his cave open than mine was seeing my nativity sheet open in Photoshop.

"Oh!" is all I manage to say. "There's no secret code? No bypass password?"

"No, sir, this is what you do. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

It's now 1:51 p.m., and I've got 9 minutes to drive across town to my appointment. I wonder why Mike didn't just tell me about this "shortcut" at the beginning of our conversation and save us both an hour? Even Photoshop newbies know all about the crop tool, but it never occurred to me to use it, because I didn't realize I needed to crop the money out of my shot.

Before I run four stories from the attic down to the car, there's only one thing left to do: grateful that my encounter with Big Brother wasn't, I thank Mike for his help.

"I'll give control of your computer back to you now," he says.

And just like that, Mike was gone, and his control of my computer was at an end..

Have I ever been happier to move my mouse—and have the cursor follow?

The Dove Nativity is now part of Crechemania's Web Virtual Museum, neatly dsplayed under the heading "Nativity Sheets," for the enjoyment of our enthusiast friends around the globe.

But you know how it got there.

—Alexis


Folio 3 of the Dove Nativity features 19 of the nativity's 33 beautifully drawn firuges. (Svatava Vizinová Zábrdské Betlémy Collection.)

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