Don’t become a professional photographer!

There is an old saying that something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. Sadly, in the age of digital photography that means nobody is willing to pay what you think it’s worth. Rarely now will they even pay you what it cost you to take the photo.

Let me give you an example:

I have some images from a recent trip on Shutterstock. They have sold quite well so far and I have amassed the grand sum of $2.25 for them. Yes, you read that correctly, I have sold my images and received $2.25. Now, how much of a loss am I at here? Well, petrol is the equivalent of $6.67 a gallon for starters.

Let’s say the trip consisted of 300miles at 54mpg (the average I get from my VW Polo), then I used 5.56 gallons at a total cost of $37.08. Without accommodation, food, or any other expenses (camera costs, insurance, or my time of course) then I am already facing the prospect of at least another 16months of consistent sales to break even on fuel alone.

Shutterstock, and they are just one drop in the competing ocean, pay just $0.25 per image sale on subscribers downloads until you get reasonably well known.

For many people this is a non-starter: Sure, over the years you might see a return on your money, and if you have several thousand images on several sites you might see a profit, in time. But, what you live off in the meantime and how you fund trips and creating new images is another matter.

What about selling your images as fine art prints? Well, you have the initial outlay of the print, framing, and then finding someone to sell it for you in a shop or gallery. You then you have to hope it sells and you get your money back plus a little profit, and after you’ve paid the commission to the gallery. You also need somewhere as storage to put them, between displays, if they don’t all sell. Which they won’t.

For many people this is a non-starter: Again there is the investment need, you have to spend to accumulate is the old saying, but where do you accumulate in order to spend?

So, what can you do to sell your images or make money from your photography in the 21th Century when everyone has a camera? I honestly don’t have the answer, but I do know that the number of people making a sustainable living is ever decreasing. Look in any magazine and you will see the same faces, and very frequently the same rehashed articles – if you want an example take a look at the excellent photos from Fukushima.

This is now the third magazine I’ve seen them in. They’re good, but I am not buying yet another magazine with them in so I missed buying this edition. You can’t blame the photographer for spreading them thinly to get a return on their investment, and you can’t blame an editor for wanting to use good images.

Getting in with magazines requires you to be able to write now as well as take excellent photographs, with the odd exception of art or photography magazines which will take your images only. But even then, often now you get a ‘gift’ instead of money – a camera rucksack for publishing your portfolio anyone? Not me, got one, and I can’t bank another rucksack. I could sell it on eBay I suppose but that won’t bring me a return anything like what it costs me to get those images.

What about getting your work noticed in the first place? Exposure, that fateful word…the one that to 99% of outlets means they ain’t going to pay you a dime. Have you tried to get a plumber to work for ‘exposure’? Have you tried to buy your lunch with ‘exposure’? Art industries are the only industries where ‘we’ (and not me actually) accept exposure as an excuse or licence for not paying a fair price, or even any price.

What does that say about how we value our own work? Aren’t we making a rod for our own backs? If I, we, are going to accept $0.25 an image what are we telling people we are worth? If some of us are happy to see our name in lights (or rather print) and have a swanky new camera bag in return for our hard won images what are we saying about the value we place on our images and our industry?

But, and here is the but, what choices do we have? The answer is very little because if we don’t then we don’t get a look in anymore. Unless you are already well known and established then I fear that the days of the full time photographer are sadly numbered, and even the most well known and respected professionals are diversifying and now make as much money (if not more) from teaching other photographers, either one-to-one or on group workshops and holidays as they do from selling the actual images they shoot. The best of the best – National Geographic – has shed staff and freelancers since the buy out by the horrible Murdoch lead group. Most newspapers now buy in images from freelancers and don’t employ their own photographers anymore.

We are bombarded with visual content, and for every images you have to pay for your can find a dozen that are almost as good for free, or for very little. Photography is now becoming a race to the bottom, and an industry that many dream of entering either as students or dream of turning hobbies into their living. Want my advice? Don’t do it.

There was an interview on my local news station the other day with a retired press photographer and he was asked what advice he would give budding photojournalists today. He said; ‘buy a guitar, there’s not money in photography anymore’.

Is there a future for photographers? I guess we wait and see. We continue to try to elevate our work to the highest standard, we continue to push new markets and new directions, we try to get our work noticed by those who still value the craft and the art of photography and we do so with thousands snapping at our heels who are happy with $0.25 an image or working for ‘exposure’ that they hope will lead to bigger things but usually just leads you to more payment free job opportunities or being passed over for the next hopeful.

It’s a cruel world.

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Last resting place

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It’s always amazing what you can find on a beach. But I can’t help wondering if the whole car might be there somehow, somewhere. If it has, it’s been there a long time and it’s a very old model of car.

(All shots taken at Kingston beach, Moray Firth, NE Scotland)

Moray Coast Trail – Hopeman to Covesea

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The Moray Coast Trail, or Moray Coastal Trail (not even the council can decide what it’s called) stretches from Cullen in the east to Findhorn towards the west, along the coast of the Moray Firth.

Officially, it’s 50 miles but there are some arguments about that…

…anyway, over the past few months we, as in Patches and I, have been tackling it in nice bite sized sections at the weekends. Patches is a mature gentlemen, with a touch of arthritis, and so those bite sized chunks range from five to around nine miles. This is a bit of a misnomer though, as we walk each section as a there-and-back, so we might only cover 2.5miles of the trail, but we do it twice, in both directions seeing it from both views.

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Some sections are easier to walk than others, as it shares the route with sections of cycle trails and on disused railways, so sometimes a nice wide flat path is provided and sometimes you are on the “walkers path” and therefore going around the cliffs (and up and down thin tracks being scratched by scratchy shrub).

I had been looking forward to yesterdays section very much, because the map has the words ‘caves’ printed on it all the way. It did not disappoint, although the scratches from the scratchy bushes on the very enclosed sections might take a few days to heal.

All along the route there are coves and bays, some sand and some pebble. Some are easy to get to, and some are definitely not.

The whole route gives excellent views across the firth to the coast on the other side, depending on the weather of course, and you can often see dolphins, seals, and a large variety of birdlife.

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Not marked on the map is the old Coastguard lookout station, which you get to see from quite some distance when walking west to east, but then it pops up over the gorse and undulating cliff top at you if on the route east to west.

It is a shame that you can’t go in it, or that it hasn’t been co-opted into a bothy like the one on Skye. I image the view from the balcony at the top would be quite something.

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The route does indeed take you past a number of sandstone caves and rock formations, as promised on the map. These ones (above) are not far from the active quarry and are reasonably accessible, although two of the three paths down are much steeper than the west most one and great care is needed.

Popular with photographers, mainly due to the natural arch you can just see at the bottom of the photo (above), and the array of weather worn large round rocks which form a stunning collection of geological complexity (below), it is unlikely you’ll be alone here for very long.

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At weekends, it is possible to park near to the quarry entrance and just visit these caves, although this is certainly not recommended on weekdays when the lorries are going in and out, and care should be taken not to block access at ANY time.

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The quarry produces some very large pieces of sandstone, and whilst it may be a bit of a blight on the landscape, it does facilitate the degree of weekend parking which is helpful, as well as offering much needed employment.

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Towards the Covesea end of the walk, which can be extended easily to Lossiemouth if desired, there is the Sculptors Cave. This feature is clearly marked on the OS maps in the serif type usually reserved for ancient monuments so there is a deeply historical context, obviously. It isn’t actually possible to see Sculptors Cave from the walk, as you’re actually walking over it, but nearby natural arches and caves that you can see give you a teaser of what it could be like.

Luckily, the wonderful Canmore website can shed more light on this;

‘Finds from the Sculptor’s Cave dating from the Bronze Age to the 4th century AD, and including Iron Age pottery, are in the Elgin Museum.’

‘The most striking feature of the cave is the (formerly) substantial assemblage of human remains that was revealed in both programmes of excavation’

‘The possibility may be considered that there were two periods of deposition….the deposition of the remains of children, with some emphasis on the placing of heads at the entrance, and….the remains of several decapitated individuals. Concern with the removal, curation and display of human heads is a persistent trait across prehistoric Europe…’
(edited, removing technical references for ease of reading, by the photographer)

This exciting site certainly warrants a further expedition to photography the carvings at a later date.

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The caves and natural arches extend along the seaward side of the cliff and also under where the photographer is standing.

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The coast of the Moray Firth is still able to enchant and interest, even after more than 13 years of living beside it. The geology itself is varied and interesting, and the human history of the coast is just as fascinating.

The eastern side of Scotland is often overlooked by the rush to the west coast and the isles, and whilst this keeps it from being unpleasantly crowded, it is a disservice to what is a very worthwhile destination. The weather of Moray is far more stable, and frequently warmer and drier than the west, although the residents will still bemoan the lack of a “decent summer”. It also suffers considerably less from the issue of the Highland midge than it’s opposing neighbours.

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Although the walk was only around 5-6 miles in length, ignoring some exploratory detours, Patches certainly enjoyed the outing as much as I did.

Update Sunday 8th October: attempted today to get down to the Sculptures Cave from the cliff above. It was difficult is distinguish the right path and I tried finding a way down and back to it from different points. In the end I found what seems the most logical path but I was only brave enough to tackle the first section and was slipping in the mud from the last few days of rain. As I peered over the precipice and contemplated the leap across the missing rock section onto the second path I am afraid that I bottled it. The caves remain unexplored until I can tackle them from the bottom having walked there from the beach at the far Lossiemouth end. For this, I would want to be there as the tide was going out rather than after it had turned and was heading back in, as being cut off is a very serious proposition. Another time…

 

Shooting my depression

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In 2004, and again in 2005, I had two major surgeries. I don’t know if I suffered depression as a result of the anaesthetic, the ill health that preceded it, or if it was just my time and my turn. I mean, one in three of us is going to get at some point. But, I got through it, without any therapy type help and with only a short spell on medication. Then it happened again.

Around five years ago I suffered another, more severe, spell of depression. This time I was suicidal, although I wouldn’t admit it to anyone. I think the doctor figured it out, and she talked to me about lots of things other than why I felt the way I did. She realised that my one channel of escape was my photography. At the time, creativity was the last thing I felt capable of. But, she also realised I had a hard streak, a defiant tenacity that surfaced, sometimes in anger, and sadly often in alcohol.

She saw I needed a direction, and she challenged me. She suggested that even a “professional photographer” couldn’t come up with a decent image every day.  I argued, that they could. I believed I could. The challenge was set.

Of course, she probably didn’t quite understand quite how tenacious I can be, or how determined (read also as ‘bloody minded’). I didn’t just decide to come up with one decent image a day, but to come up with one decent image a day EVERYDAY, for A YEAR.

I started on New Years Day, at dawn. And I took three photos;

They weren’t very good and I didn’t even have a decent camera at the time. I’d been depressed now for several months and I’d lost pretty much everything; work, money, I’d hocked my equipment, I sold my self esteem.

At the time I decided to do this, I didn’t actually realise how difficult this would be. It wasn’t difficult to come up with an image, but to come up with a new image, every day, when all I wanted to do was stay in bed and cry was bloody hard work. But, it did something for my depression; it made me get out of bed and get off my arse. It made me get outside in the fresh air, sometimes in the pouring rain, and do something.

My depression lifted, eventually, around four months after I first contemplated my suicide and realised I needed help. Medication was a part of it, a very necessary part of it, and regular conversations with my GP helped no end. Support from my friends, some who really understood because they’d been in their own hells, helped too. But the thing that I think made such a huge difference, to me, was getting out there with my camera and taking photos. I treated every day as an assignment, as if someone were going to be paying me to get the shot. It was hard, and I didn’t always feel like it, and sometimes I would rage against myself, my friends, and inwardly at the whole world. But I got out there and I took my photos. I did it with a cold, I even managed a photo with flu taken in the kitchen whilst trying desperately not to cough and then I threw up.

I couldn’t work at the time, nobody would have employed me the state I was in, but it helped me to think that one day they might. It helped me to think that what I was doing would be seen by other people so I made an online blog, and I published my photos of the day, each day, and every day. I didn’t have the money to go very far, so many of my images were based on the area in which I was living at the time and I think that’s partly why I ended up with a small but quite dedicated local following.

The photos that I took during this period weren’t very good, and looking back now I can actually see my periods of lowest mood from the images I shot. Some are very dark, and very sad. Some are angry and raging against the injustices I felt in the world, my little world or the bigger one. Some are just boring photos that I took to get the job over with. Some make me chuckle.

And just some of those images are still in my portfolio today.

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Looking back on them now whilst I can see my depression, or the effect it was having on me at times, I am also reminded that actually I am a damned fine photographer.

My depression is always with me, always lurking around somewhere waiting. I do not hide from it, and I do not pretend it isn’t there. Some days, even just this week, I want to stop the world and get off, to hide in the closet and never come out again. Some days I get up feeling inspired, then it sort of just…goes down hill from there. Whatever I am feeling though, I know I can channel some it into my photography. The results may not be publishable, and I might even delete the whole damn lot, but I know that going out and creating something works more times than it does not. Some times going out isn’t possible, but that doesn’t matter either.

I would say, because of the audience this site has, that I have never let a client down, and I never will. Not if it’s in my control, even when my depression isn’t. I have never not turned up on a job and I have no intention of starting now, no matter how hard it is sometimes to get out of my pit and actually do it, but I do it, always.

When I am shooting for myself, or just shooting as a prelude or prospect, then some days the creative juices flow, and some days they don’t. Some days I can write from 4am until 4am the next day and other days the words won’t come out at all. But it doesn’t really matter, they’re only words and photographs anyway. They aren’t going to determine the future of anyones life but mine. And some days that doesn’t seem to mean much either.

Thank you for listening.

Blythe

 

Findochty to Cullen with the Olympus PEN-F

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The Moray Coastal Trail runs from Forres in West to Cullen in the East, and is a long distance trail of around 50 miles, which isn’t a long long distance trail, but its not a day hike either. Although if you look at it in little sections, it provides a convenient path between the coastal towns and villages, an more convenient off-road route for cyclists, and a gentle stroll for those of us who are feeling a bit less committed that the long distance hiker. Being a bit noncommittal after two divorces, I have hiked almost all of it, also twice, because I’ve done it in sections as “there and back” outings.

It’s an ideal stroll as in many sections it uses bit of the old railway track, so it is often fairly level, but there are options to adopt a more robust and strenuous, “walkers only”, path along some sections of the clifftops. These routes drop in and out of many secluded bays, are generally longer, and also provide some wonderful experiences of the local geological features. It is also far easier to have a pee on them if you’re a woman because there are more places to hide your arse. For men, not so much of a problem.

The trail, or individual sections, can of course be walked in either direction, and as I go out and back sometimes I take the photos in the opposite order to the way I write about it because I like to enjoy the walk and then get the shots on the way back. But I am not going to bore you with showing you the same bits twice.

The slide show above features 10 images from the Findochty (pronounced Finichty or Finechty depending on if they come from Buckie or further along the coast) to Cullen section. Cullen is famous as the home of the original Cullen Skink; a rich creamy soup using smoked haddock pieces and potatoes, and comes highly recommended by the author 😉

A little about each picture:

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My walk started in Findochty harbour, which is where my post Wee Horses, Wee Boats sort of finished. Although the harbour is now used mainly by leisure craft, there are still some creel pot fishermen as shown in this photo. The bigger trawlers having moved to Buckie in the late 1800’s, where a deeper harbour could accommodate the ever larger vessels.

 

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The Moray Coast interests geologists, with many paying trips to examine the exposed Cullen Quartzite formations. Psammitic beds are interbedded with thinner pelitic beds, and other sedimentary features can also easily be seen right along the coast here. Evidently, we have evidence of crenulations cleavage, and even secondary cleavage (which doesn’t sound flattering to anything other than rocks), as well as garnets in quartzite rocks on sections of the coast near to Cullen itself.

The most famous rock formation on this section of the walk is Bow Fiddle Rock, which has quite frankly been “done to death”.

 

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Birds are singing

The weather was glorious the whole way along the coast, with birds singing in the gorse and plenty of birds and boats on the water. I was delighted to see, albeit briefly, a small pod of the Firth’s famous resident Bottlenose Dolphins on the return leg.

The coast always attracts a number of migrant birds during the Spring and Autumn, and it is not unusual for some real rarities to turn up.

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Portknockie harbour

Portknockie harbour is a two basin harbour with berthing for up to 50 boats. Now mainly used by pleasure craft and leisure fishermen, there is still a small industry of crab and lobster boats, although most are now part-time. It also boasts a salt water fed open-air swimming pool which can be seen in the left basin in the photo. The town of Portnockie is mainly situated above the harbour, on the cliff top, and overlooks it.

 

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The Fishermen’s Hall, Portknockie

The Fishermen’s Hall (this is the correct title as displayed on the name plaque), is believed to have been built in 1820. It was initially used a coal store by the Society of Fishermen (est. 1819), and started life as single storey with a thatched roof. It gained elevation and a state roof in 1842, and then to two full stories at the turn of the century. It has had a number of uses including hosting some notable local weddings during the mid-late 1800s. By 1994 it was is a poor state of repair, and the then owners Moray Council, put it up for sale. There was little interest until 2002 when it sold and the new owners sort permission to convert it into flats, but this was refused. It has been renovated, but to what end I am not sure. More info here

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Oceanic garage

Not actually sure if this is a garage or a shed, but basing my observation on the fact you could drive into it I’m calling it a garage. The residents of Portknockie are, rightly, proud of their beautiful coastal town, although more of a village, and work very hard to keep up appearances. Evidence of murals to the sea can be found tucked away throughout the town, including this garage, and the community has it’s own website and newsletter, although 2015 seems to be the last available online.

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Home of the Zulu

The Zulu design of fishing boat originated in Portknockie, and was the successor of the Fifie. The hull design came from nearby Lossiemouth, and this was developed into the Zulu craft (named after the war raging, at the time, in southern Africa).  Over 100 of these boats were built in this small rock cove, and it became a well respected design. Tragedy was often too common to sea faring communities, and a Portknockie boat, The Evangeline, was very sadly one of them.

 

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Approaching Cullen

There are two approaches to Cullen, one on the cycle path which takes you over the famous viaduct, and one which takes you along the cliff top and then down onto the beach. This photo was taken from the cycle path which goes over the viaduct on the old railway line. It was hot, I was lazy.

 

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Tee’s off for a song

Cullen Golf Course proudly states it is the ‘Worlds Shortest True Links Course’. Designed by Old Tom Morris as a 9-hole, it was later extended to 18 holes by local architect Charlie Neaves. Although the course is short, nestling alongside the beach between the cliffs and the viaduct, it has 18 challenging 3-par and 4-par holes in the most stunning location imaginable. Immaculately kept greens permit around 3-hours a round.

 

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Cullen from the old railway

Due to the weather being so warm (bordering hot), and unusually so for August in Scotland, I didn’t go right the way into Cullen itself as it was becoming a bit too much for my dog. We stopped on top of the famous viaduct a short way on from this last photo for lunch and then turned back. The wonderful things about this part of Scotland are the accessibility of the beaches, the light, and the skies. While I still have a preference for mountains and lochs, the coast doesn’t have the same issues with midges so that’s a definite bonus to time spent here.

 

The photography:

All the images were shot with my Cullen Golf Course, after all, that is in the sub-title of this blog site, and using either the Olympus Zuiko M.14-42mm/f3.5-5.6EZ ‘pancake’ lens or the Olympus Zuiko M.9-18mm/f4.0-5.6 lens. Both of these are easily pocket sized, and very light, with surprisingly good optical quality. The 14-42mm ‘kit’ lens often gets a very undeserved bad press and I have found it a surprising pleasure. But don’t take just my word for it; Robin Wong has an excellent article about the lens here.

All the images in this feature are jpegs shot in-camera with some additional cropping in Adobe Lightroom (LR) to give the required emphasis for the story I was creating. I have used the histogram, also in LR, to bring out the full range of tones, as I am still getting used to the customisation features of the PEN-F. As a result of this outing I have now made some further adjustments to the feature in the camera, mainly using the curves in-camera adjustment to increase the range of tones and contrast during future shoots. This shoot was done using the defaults in the Mono 1 creative mode with contrast set to neutral (default), and sharpening to +1. I have also applied a gentle Yellow filter, again in-camera, as a customisable option.

Due to the overall brightness of the shooting period (more on that below), I set the Exposure compensation to -0.3 to ensure the highlights were not blown out. I used Aperture Priority throughout the walk to keep things simple, and for some reason all the images I selected for this blog were shot at f10. This wasn’t deliberate, and I have shots taken at different apertures, the ones I liked most were all f10. Weird…

The camera was set to ISO200, and I didn’t find a need for a tripod even though I carried one. Image stabilisation was turned off throughout. The reason for this is two fold – firstly, I have never been a fan and I have found (previously with Nikon) that you can often get sharper images without it. I prefer to either raise the ISO, or use a tripod, when required. I cannot see how introducing movement, even microscopic movement, can make an image sharper and to me it is only worth using in very low light if you’ve really reached the reasonable limits of handholding/ISO/aperture of lens.

The second reason is that I find that the PEN-F gets notoriously warm with it switched on, especially around the handgrip, and turning it off stops this completely. There is an added bonus in that it also increases battery life. Of course, in the winter I might yet switch it back on and use the camera as a hand warmer….(kidding, fix please Olympus).

All the images in this entry were shot between 12.50 and 15.33 (I can be this exact because it’s in the file data) and on Sunday 27th August, 2017. This period of time is supposed to be the photographic desert period when nobody shoots anything due to the bright, unfavourable, light. The fact it was cloudy allowed some interest in the sky to be maintained, although the cloud was at times rather thin and widespread, but it reduced the need for graduated ND filters to a good degree. When the clouds were more compacted, ‘fluffy’, and therefore more interesting, the difference between the blue sky and the more broken clouds greatly improved the photographic opportunities. As a result, in these images I increased the amount of sky included. Photography is as much about what you leave out as what you include.

My preference for monochromatic images does also allow for more shooting at what is often viewed as a ‘bad’ time of day, but sometimes you just have to get what you can at the time, and I find the Olympus PEN-F allows me to do that. I don’t really think there is a ‘bad’ time for photography, you just have to adapt to the light you’re given or find a way to manipulate or compensate for it.

There are two very famous views of this area; the Cullen viaduct being one, and as I alluded earlier Bow Fiddle Rock being the other, but I have deliberately avoided these because I find they have become cliches. I had a conversation with the director of a local tourist body no so long ago and he said; “oh, god, if I have to see one more picture of Bow Fiddle flipping rock”.

Photographers can copy others, or write their own stories.

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