TIME photography

How Eliot Elisofon Brought an Artist’s Eye to Social Problems

For this LIFE photographer, modern art and social documentation could coexist in a single frame

War correspondent, art collector, color consultant, creative director, world traveler — there were very few things Eliot Elisofon didn’t do during his long tenure as a staff photographer for LIFE Magazine. But as diverse as his talents were, they can all be traced to the first two jobs he ever held: artist and social worker.

Elisofon, whose work is featured in an exhibit at New York City’s Gitterman Gallery through April 18, would come to be known as one of the first photographers to extensively document Africa in photographs. But he made a compelling body of work on more familiar territory long before making his way onto LIFE’s payroll. Born in New York’s Lower East Side in 1911, Elisofon received a degree in social science from Fordham University in 1933. While studying and after graduation, he took a job as a social worker for the New York State Labor Department, snapping photos in his spare time.

An admirer of Margaret Bourke-White and Picasso, Elisofon nursed a soft spot for painting that grew into a full-fledged portfolio of watercolors exhibited at museums and galleries around the world. As sensitive to light, texture and composition as he was to urban decay and social injustice, Elisofon’s early work was a combination of modern art and photojournalism, a blend that evolved over his lengthy career and positioned him as a versatile shooter. He was as comfortable creating Hollywood glamor shots as he was making candid portraits of African tribal leaders.

Like many young photographers, Elisofon’s first paying jobs were in advertising. While he would later revisit the techniques he learned from commercial photography, Elisofon had a fierce sense of artistic integrity and a keen understanding of the challenges artists face in making meaningful work while still earning a living.

In a 1953 lecture hosted by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America on “The Ethics and Morals of Creative Expression,” Elisofon explored the moral responsibility of the artist:

Am I immoral if I compromise my career? I began as a photographer in a commercial studio who spent the weekends photographing slum conditions in New York City. Some of my first magazine assignments were negative social reports in the South. I discovered that although great interest was shown by a few people in these studies that I could not get these stories published. Photography, and especially photo-reportage, is a medium which requires an audience. It soon became apparent to me that my career was at a standstill and I became a photographer of wider scope doing a variety of stories from the stars of Hollywood to the Atlantic Coast of the United States in order to gain recognition. I also managed to obtain assignments which interested me and which I felt had real value.

If Elisofon felt he had compromised by photographing celebrities, you’d never know it to look at the photos, as he approached these shoots with the same care and attention that he gave his work in Africa and on city streets. Equal parts technical virtuoso and acute observer, he saw social issues with an artist’s eyes, and documented them as a concerned photojournalist. His ability to turn urban decay into abstract art in his early work was an indication of the kind of duality and balance he would maintain throughout his career. He believed in the power of photography to inspire change, but he never underestimated the value of a beautiful image.

Krystal Grow is an arts writer and photo editor based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale

TIME On Our Radar

Explore the Dark Side of YouTube with Artist Doug Rickard

“I knew this work was going to be darker,” says the visual artist Doug Rickard. “As I started to dive into the footage, I realized that there was an extra motive for posting videos on YouTube, and often it was a rather dark motive in itself.”

In 2012, Rickard presented his take on the American landscape using Google Street View. Now, he is sifting through the massive online video cache to reveal, in still frames, the things that go unnoticed among the ubiquity of virtual imagery.

In Rickard’s work, the media is central to the message, though his final product, whether it’s a print, a photo book or a video installation, is helplessly alone, removed from any identifying context that could concretely explain what we’re seeing. What is clear from NA, his latest project, is that digital imagery, whether in video or still form, is loaded with interactive tension.

Clicks, likes and views are encouraging people to exploit each other online, Rickard suggests, as the line between public and private becomes increasingly blurred in a confusing and caustic digital landscape. “I think the technology is embedding a new dynamic that is voyeuristic in terms of the audience and their appetite for voyeurism, and also predatory, in terms of why people are posting photos or videos and what their motivations are,” he says.

Rickard, who describes himself as an artist working with digital technologies, has faced a fair amount of push back for his work, as photography purists take issue with his appropriation of images. His actual process of creating images, however, presents a counter argument. For both New American Pictures, his street view project, and NA, Rickard sets up a digital camera on a tripod in front of a dedicated screen that mirrors a second screen that he uses to navigate. He then performs exhaustive keyword searches and scans the results, and with a shutter release cable in his left hand and a mouse in his right, selects a broad swath of material to work from. From there, he says the most crucial and aesthetically critical part of his process begins: editing.

“I’m stitching together what I feel is a vision that’s cohesive, and yet has elements that are distinct; elements that are connected,” he says. “It’s a whole dance of moving parts that have to do with color and light and shadow – all the elements that traditional photography deals with – so I would get to a point where I could look at thumbnails on a screen as I’m going through search categories and recognize before I view the video if the lighting, or the color was going to work out.”

That same sense of stitched-togetherness translates to the physical pages of the book, which is laid out in an off kilter, almost disorienting way. Images are separated at times by varying blocks of black space, spread unevenly across one or two pages, while others are pushed uncomfortably close together, barely split by the seam of the book, emphasizing the uneasy viewing experience Rickard says he intentionally subjects his audience to.

“I’m not satisfied anymore with the most simple or visually pleasing of layouts,” Rickard says. “You need interruptions of sorts and take things out of perfect symmetry in order to carry the ark of a book through and prevent complacency on the part of the viewer. There’s an intent to mix that up.”

The physical layout of the book is part of Rickard’s larger mission to embed deep layers of subtext into his projects, both by completely removing his source material from its native platform and format, but also by choosing to show images that he sees as socially, politically and historically loaded. His aesthetic cynicism is most often aimed at America, questioning in images the various ways American ideals and values are distorted.

“I’m so focused on the idea of America and the idea of what we present, and then a different idea of the way things may really be, and what we present in terms of American history as opposed to the way that history actually went down,” he says. “There are constant gaps between the way we want to see ourselves, the way we think other nations see us, and then the way we actually are. I can’t get off of that.”

And perhaps there’s no reason to. Visual imagery uploaded online is transient at best, but for Rickard, they illustrate larger, darker issues of racism, class inequality and hypocrisy. As images continue to fall haphazardly into the ethers of the internet, Rickard is sifting through them, pulling from our collective virtual consciousness the angst, irony and at times outright aggressiveness we exhibit on quasi-public online forums, but prefer to ignore in the real world.

Doug Rickard is a multimedia artist based in California. His new book NA will be published in December, 2014 by DAP.

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale

TIME On Our Radar

How 12 Exhibitions, Two Museums and One Gallery Changed Photography Forever

A new book by Contrasto explores how exhibitions shaped the evolution of photography and helped establish it as a unique and powerful art form

The history of photography is often explored via moments, movements, and individual practitioners. Strangely, these watershed events are typically removed from the vehicle which allowed them to be experienced by a wider audience: the exhibition.

From its humble beginnings as slow paced, painterly depictions of quiet streets and cluttered window sills, photography began to expand the moment it was put on display, and continued to evolve as people began to organize and curate it in a way that used to be reserved to more traditional art forms. In the book, Photo Show, published by Contrasto, editor Alessandra Mauro has identified a series of landmark exhibitions that, she says, shaped not only the history of photography, but its evolution as a distinct art form and modern means of communication.

“The special, crucial thing that affects photography is its special relationship with reality, and for this reason, I think there is a deep, narrative heart to photography. It has its own language, and photo exhibitions are ways of telling stories about reality,” Mauro says. “Some exhibitions stood out very clearly. The Family of Man, of course, was a seminal exhibition. We are all, you could say, sons of Family of Man.”

The 1955 photo show was curated by Edward Steichen, the 2nd director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art. MoMA was an early supporter of photography as an art form worthy of wall space, and would become a bastion of photographic activity over the following half-century. The Family of Man was a truly epic undertaking for MoMA’s young photo department, and included 503 photographs by 273 photographers representing 68 different countries. Unconventional and completely unprecedented at its time, most of the photos were displayed unframed, mounted to slabs of masonite and hung from the ceiling- suspended in mid-air. The show followed a distinct, narrative path, leading viewers through a three dimensional photo collage that occupied the entire second floor of the museum.

Steichen’s monumental exhibition set a precedent that Mauro says can be traced through the remainder of the 20th century and came full circle in 2001 with the opening of here is new york: a democracy of photographs, an egalitarian exhibition of images taken in the midst and immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York City. Staged in a vacant storefront in downtown Manhattan, the show opened on Sept. 25, and included hundreds of photographs submitted to the show’s curators, who scanned and reprinted the images and hung them, unframed, with wires that criss-crossed the makeshift gallery space. The idea was to create an exhibition that could tell in images what words could not express, and to present a platform for everyone capable of capturing an image in those harrowing moments, a place to show them, and the opportunity for a grieving city to collectively reflect.

"Here is New York: Remembering 9/11" Exhibit

“The fact that everyone could be called to submit pictures, no matter if they were photographers or amateurs, is something that really changed completely the perception of what photography is and what photography can be,” Mauro says, adding that the exhibition was also one of the first to rely heavily on the power of the internet to share and collect images.

Over time, the photo show has served as a nucleus of ideas, Maruo says, from Daguerre in Paris and Steiglitz in New York, to fine-art photojournalism and the rise of contemporary photography. While Photo Show covers a substantial time line that runs parallel to the invention of photography and all its subsequent evolutions, Mauro says that it is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather, a new perspective to approach the medium from. “It was clear to me, that before everything, photography must be shown – must be demonstrated – and the exhibition is a demonstration, so that was my starting point, and this book is an attempt to see exhibitions as a key to the history of photography.”

Alessandro Mauro is a curator and the Editorial Director of Contrasto Publishing House, Italy.

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instgram @kgreyscale


TIME On Our Radar

Eerie Photos of Japan’s Coast

“I remember my parents taking me to the beach,” says photographer Asako Narahashi. “The coastline of Japan is very long and complex. There are beaches and mountains. They all have their unique expressions.”

In her latest book, Ever Aftera continuation of her 2008 masterpiece half awake and half asleep in the water – Narahashi shows the geography of Japan from a dreamy, desolate and disconnected perspective. Floating off the coastline, Narahashi lifts her camera just above the water, and makes a photograph. The images that appear are split, at times almost completely in half, with the lower frame practically submerged, while the peak of Mt.Fuji or another far-off landmark rises just above the glistening ripple of a breaking wave.

“When I started this project, I wanted to see and depict Japan as an island,” she said, admitting that at first, she didn’t have any strong attachment to the places she was photographing from afar. But after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster in Fukushima, people began to see an eerie tension and trepidation in her waterlogged imagery.

“That was really shocking to me, so I stayed away from taking photos in Japan for a while,” she said. “I didn’t want to take pictures of the water anymore.” She traveled to the Netherlands instead and made images on dry land that continued her photographic exploration of disconnected landscapes, but did not return to the water until friends encouraged her to visit Nojiri Lake, near Nagano, Japan. “It was a challenge getting back to this work,” she said, “but visiting this lake was something of a rehabilitation for me, and allowed me [to find] a way back into photographing in Japan again”

Her photographs, which she had called “happy coincidences,” became reminders of the darker, more ominous side of the natural world, and our helplessness in the face of destruction. That sense of resignation is as calming as it is unsettling in Ever After, as Narahashi’s floating photographs feel listless, but not carefree – certainly not the sort of photos one would take on a leisurely day at the beach. The distance she creates between herself, the camera and the landscapes is powerfully serene and dreadfully solitary.

While not all of the images in Narahashi’s book are underwater, she still manages to creates a distinct sense of separation that makes the viewer acutely aware of just how little we know about the landscapes that surround us. “After the disaster, those words ‘ever after’ were always with me. I found myself repeating them, like the end of a fairy tale,” she said. “The work is more complex now.”

Asako Narahashi is a photographer based in Japan. Her book Ever After is published by Osiris

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instgram @kgreyscale

TIME technology

Capturing a Great White Shark with a GoPro

Depending on your perspective, Amanda Brewer either had the best, or worst summer vacation ever.

The elementary school art teacher snapped the photo above of a Great White Shark in South Africa where she volunteered this summer to collect data for the eco-tourism and animal conservation organization White Shark Africa. A lifelong lover of the typically terrifying sea-beasts, Brewer said that her time in the waters of Mossel Bay were some of the most fascinating and rewarding of her life.

“I wasn’t even a little bit frightened,” she said. “When you’re there and you’re in their presence, it’s not scary. They’re beautiful and graceful, and you can see how intelligent they are.”

The photo was taken totally off the cuff with the a GoPro camera, Brewer said. And while she’d experimented with nature and candid photography, had no way of knowing if the image she saw as the giant shark approached her with its jaws wide open, was the image she’d actually captured on camera.

“I bought the camera right before I left for the trip, and had no expectations at all,” she said. “It was the perfect moment, and the camera is so easy to use and takes such magnificent photos. I’d been waiting for this kind of experience my whole life, and was worried that when it finally happened I’d ruin it, but that photo was taken from the cage and the shark was just coming straight at me. It happens so fast when you’re actually there.”

Brewer said she took multiple images during her adventures among the sharks in South Africa, but none as dramatic as this single frame of the Great White Shark. When she returned to the U.S., the New Jersey school teacher hung the photo in her classroom, and said that her students were enthralled by her close encounter, but also inspired by her passion for animal conservation.

“I knew immediately that that photo was going to do something,” she said. “It’s a motivation for them to see that image, and be excited by it, and to realize that they could do that too, if they wanted. And even though some people may see the image and think it’s terrifying, if 350,000 people can talk about it in one day, at least people are talking and having conversations about these beautiful animals.”

Amanda Brewer is a New Jersey based educator and a volunteer with White Shark Africa in Mossel Bay

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instgram @kgreyscale

TIME Behind the Photos

Robin Williams: Photographers Remember a Legendary Actor

Legendary actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead in his home in Marin County, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 11. Police confirmed Williams’ death as a suicide on Tuesday afternoon.

A veteran of screen and stage, Williams’ career spanned decades, from stand-up to sitcoms to Academy accolades and Oscar wins. A comic genius with a dark side, he inspired generations of performers with his spastic slapstick and gut-wrenching sincerity.

His status as a major Hollywood actor landed him in front of many photographers, who have as many memories of their time with him as they have images to match them. To mark his tragic and untimely passing, and honor his influential career, TIME LightBox presents a selection of photographs accompanied by the recollections of the photographers who made them. Together, they tell the story of a kind and complicated man.

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale

TIME movies

The (2nd) Biggest Mistake Roman Polanski Ever Made

Roman Polanski at Oktoberfest
Istvan Bajzat—dpa/Corbis Director Roman Polanski smokes a cigarette and drinks a beer at Oktoberfest, Sept.29, 1977.

The photo that forced Polanski to flee

Roman Polanski made a lot of mistakes in 1977. The famous director of Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby, who had escaped the horrors of the Holocaust as a child and endured the brutal murder of his pregnant wife at the hands of the Manson Family, was on trial for the Quaalude and champagne fueled rape of a 13-year-old girl.

Thanks to Judge Laurence Rittenband, who allegedly loved the media frenzy the trial inspired, Polanski was granted permission to leave the country in exchange for a guilty plea to the least legally damning of the six charges he faced: illegal sex with a minor.

So Polanski flew to Europe to begin filming the massive action epic The Hurricane, but made an unfortunate pit stop in Germany for Oktoberfest, where he was photographed by paparazzo Istvan Bajzat. The image of Polanski, leisurely smoking a cigar, flanked on all sides by young girls and giant beer steins, was a game-changer in a case already rife with legal inconsistencies, and solidified Polanski’s public perception as a freewheeling womanizer.

Polanski was ordered to return to the US, where he was immediately sent to Chino State Prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation, of which he served 42 days. Less than three months later, just hours before he was to stand trial, Polanski fled to Europe, where the 81-year-old director still lives and works.

Polanski’s newest film, a racy adaptation of the stage play Venus in Fur, has its U.S. release today, June 20.

TIME technology

Necessities, Not Accessories: Camera Bags by Magnum Photographers

Magnum photographers Steve McCurry and David Alan Harvey are on a quest to solve a fundamental functionality roadblock in the world of professional photography. The two award-winning photographers have been friends and colleagues over the course of their careers that have taken them to some of the most remote regions of the globe. They’ve been honored for the exceptional photographs they’ve made in unpredictable scenarios, but they say the one thing they never want to worry about is whether their equipment is protected and accessible at all times.

“A big part of what we do [as photographers] is cart our stuff around,” McCurry told TIME, “so that was the exercise: what’s the easiest, most logical, most intelligent way to get around with your equipment?”

For McCurry, that mission translated into a small line of custom-made camera bags he felt could help photographers (literally) get a handle on their gear and develop a practical shooting routine in any scenario.

“Functionality is more important than style. Organization is so important, especially in photography. You really can’t underestimate it,” he said. “You need a system that’s second nature, like a reflex, so you’re thinking about the picture or the situation and not the equipment. You want your full concentration on the work, not fumbling around for things. That would be counterproductive.”

L to R)  CEO Alan Kirk and Magnum photographers Steve McCurry and David Alan Harvey at the  headquarters in Seattle during the initial design process for the new line of camera bags being launched on May 1, 2014.
Filson(L to R) CEO Alan Kirk and Magnum photographers Steve McCurry and David Alan Harvey at the headquarters in Seattle during the initial design process for the new line of camera bags being launched on May 1, 2014.

Harvey, a self-described minimalist with a self-diagnosed camera bag obsession, said that portability and durability were not only key features of his ideal camera bag, but essential to his photographic process.

“I’m a one-camera, one-lens kind of guy, I always have been, so I really took this down to the bare bones. There’s hardly anything to it, in one sense,” Harvey told TIME. “Photographers tend to think they need a lot more stuff in their bags then they actually do. They’re imagining pockets and padding and all that. I didn’t want any bells and whistles on this, because every extra zipper you add, adds more weight. You may not think that makes a difference, but when you’ve been on your feet all day walking around Rome or New York or wherever, you’ll notice that weight at the end of the day.”

The line of camera bags McCurry and Harvey have designed with outdoor-apparel company Filson were not only built to last, but made to look so unassuming that it’d be easy to mistake them for military surplus.

Steve McCurry—MagnumJuly, 1983. McCurry in Porbander, Gujarat, India.

“I’m not trying to make a fashion statement,” McCurry said. “The last thing you want is a bag that says ‘I’m a photographer.’ I want to be the guy that’s invisible and can come in with stealth. I didn’t want it to look like a designer bag or something that clearly says there’s something important in it.”

The trade-off for that kind of high-quality camouflage is, ironically, a designer price tag— ranging from $245 to $425 each— but both Harvey and McCurry agree that when you’re considering a vehicle for the (often very expensive) tools of your trade, it’s worth the investment. They believe that serious photographers, or those just reaching a point where they’ve accepted that a well-made camera bag is an extension of an organized, efficient workflow, will recognize the value of the new Filson line.

“Somebody’s certainly going to want to make this an accessory, and people will buy it to be cool, but we made this stuff to actually use it,” Harvey said. “McCurry and I are far from models. We’re out there for real.”

The Filson-Magnum collection launches May 1st, to coincide with the grand opening of the new Filson store in New York City. They will be available online and through select retail stores in June and July.

David Alan Harvey is a photographer with Magnum Photos and the founder of BURN Magazine. His work has appeared in National Geographic Magazine.

Steve McCurry is an award winning photographer with Magnum Photos. His work has appeared in National Geographic, TIME Magazine and other major publications.

Krystal Grow is a writer for TIME LightBox


TIME Interview

#LightBoxFF: Mark Peterson on the Power of Social Media and Political Satire

How the photographer uses Instagram to turn political theater into photographic cartoons

Welcome to this week’s edition of TIME LightBox Follow Friday, a series where we feature the work of photographers using Instagram in new, interesting and engaging ways. Each week we will introduce you to the person behind the feed through his or her pictures and an interview with the photographer.

For this edition of #LightBoxFF, we spoke to Redux photographer Mark Peterson, whose candid and at times outrageous political photos have appeared on the Instagram feeds of MSNBC and GQ, and in print in the New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Fortune and TIME. His stark black and whites and ultra-saturated color photos amplify the absurdity of the scenes he captures. Instagram, he says, offers endless opportunities to indulge in the unexpected.

LightBox: What purpose does Instagram serve for you, and what do you feel is the purpose of your feed

MP: Instagram for me is the opportunity to be creative. I think it’s this way for other photographers, also. We all want to show off our creativity or passions. I love that I can see so many great photographers putting out some of their first images of a new project — it’s like a proof sheet of the world of photography. There are side benefits to this, too, as I’ve posted images and editors have emailed me asking if I have more images from that event, or if I can do an assignment for them. One example: I covered a demonstration in New York after the Trayvon Martin verdict and posted an image on Instagram, and TIME’s Paul Moakley emailed me asking if I had more images and if TIME could use them.

LightBox: When did you start using Instagram, and how has your understanding of it changed since your first post?

Mark Peterson: I started using Instagram in July of 2012. GQ asked me to cover the Democratic and Republican National Conventions using my iPhone and post pictures to their new Instagram site. I actually set up my account and took my first photos with Instagram on my way to meet with them about the project. I loved photographing the conventions this way as it was so immediate — like a live report from the convention floor. Using only my iPhone was both a challenge and very liberating. I was able to take pictures very fast and not have to carry around long lens and heavy cameras. One thing that was interesting was how the conventioneers wouldn’t walk in front of me when I was taking a picture but other photographers would just walk in front of me because they didn’t think I was covering the convention as a photojournalist. It made me even more invisible as a photographer in many ways and able to capture things spontaneously.

Capture the flag time at the convention

A photo posted by Mark Peterson (@markpetersonpixs) on

An image from the 2012 DNC uploaded to Mark Peterson’s feed.

LightBox: Which post inspired the most audience feedback in terms of likes and comments? Do you agree with the kind of attention it got, and why do you think it was so popular?

MP: I think the most popular posts have been my Politics in Black and White series which I started September of 2013. It deals with today’s political theater and Instagram was a perfect platform for how I am manipulating the images in this series. I hadn’t shot black and white in years, but rediscovered it again through the apps. I first take them with my DSLR and then run them through apps on my phone. I have to use my DSLR because of the flash I like to use, but it’s the apps that make the pictures more theatrical or cartoonish. Some people like it and some people think it’s gone off the rails of journalism because of the heavy manipulations. I think it’s great for people to take shots at me in the comment section, it’s all a marketplace of ideas. And as far as manipulation, maybe that’s true but I think people did the same things in darkrooms for many years. W. Eugene Smith, who worked over his prints in the darkroom, once said, “I didn’t make the rules, why should I follow them?”

This image from CPAC, uploaded on Mar. 16, 2014, is the most popular image on Peterson’s feed at 670 likes.

LightBox: When do you feel like you hit your stride with Instagram? Is there a specific project or assignment, or even a single image where you crossed a threshold and your perspective on the platform changed?

MP: Last May I was in Los Angeles working on an assignment for a couple of weeks, and had a lot of down time. I have always loved Hollywood and the notion of place it represents and so I wandered up and down Hollywood Boulevard trying to capture it in the present and also in the memory I had of it from when I was a teenager and lived in LA. The sun bouncing off the sidewalk was perfect for the lens and color palate of the iPhone and it was fun to post these new images which I was just making for Instagram.

An image Peterson took on Hollywood Boulevard in May 2013, posted to Instagram on Mar. 2, 2014

LightBox: What other outlets did you have for showing/sharing work before Instagram? Has using Instagram been liberating for you as a professional photographer?

MP: I like Instagram and Facebook and Tumblr because I can see what other photographers are doing. It’s really an amazing time for photography. To be able to see Richard Sandler post his seminal street pictures from the ’80s on Facebook and see a new generation love them, or to see Henry Jacobson Instagram’s feed @postcardshome, which is so beautiful and personal and really a visual diary. There are so many great photographers shooting what they are concerned or passionate about and their platforms allow me to see this in real time. I’m in awe of the work that is being produced.

Mark Peterson is a photographer based in New York. Follow him on Instagram @markpetersonpixs

Krystal Grow is a writer for TIME LightBox

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