Anything left to photograph?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by john meehan, Nov 16, 2003.

  1. Given that every conceivable physical subject has been photographed to the point of cliche and that reflexive approaches are now passe, is the only innovation left to be technological? That is to say in the tools rather than applications? Where are the visual frontiers of the medium?
  2. You are probably right...everything has been tried at least once. Fortunately, nobody has taken the PERFECT photograph yet of ANYTHING and so there is plenty of opportunity to go back over the list and try for the perfect shot.
  3. you are starting from a false premise.
  4. How can you say "everything" has been photographed? that's not neccesarrily true, now is it? Have all the tallest peaks of all the tallest mountains been photographed? Have all the deepest trenches in the deepest oceans been photographed? Every plant and animal on the earth? Every person? Every expression?

    Every angle? Every light source? On every subject?

    There are still plants and animals "waiting" to be discovered. How can you say everything has been photographed? There are still atrocities being committed every day. There are still sunsets every evening. Just because there are 500,000 pictures of sunsets already- doesn't mean you can't be the one to do it differently. \

    Don't say there is nothing left. That simply isn't true. If you're bored with your prospects, be a little creative. If you simply need something new and exciting to photograph, take a scuba diving course, and start with all the unfound glories beneath us. You could also become an astronaut and start with all the unfound glories above us, but that might take a bit more work.

    Good luck. Now get out there.
  5. Yes, St. Pauls in London looks distinctly different today then it did a year ago (part white, part in scaafolding, as opposed to completely covered in 400 years of pollution), so do the subtle changes in the fashion the tourists in front of it wear. Travel guides need to be updated for that.

    And that is only the tip of the iceberg.
  6. Yes, maybe Saint Pauls hasn't changed a bit. But, maybe "you" could change the way you look at it. It's not a church* it's a home for a zillion pigeons. It's not a church, it's a sanctuary for "sinners". If you keep the same perspective, you're going to get the same shot. If you try looking at things a different way, you may be surprised at what you get. The same with those "tourists". If that's how you view them, thats what they'll be.

    * I do not know that Saint Pauls is a church, I'm assuming it is. If I'm wrong and it's really a brothel belonging to George St. Paul, then just alter my comparisons to fit.
  7. Erin, yes, St Pauls is a church - well a cathedral. It's the one with the big dome.

    John. There is a zen like dimension to your question - the "if a tree falls in a forest with no-one to hear it, does it make a sound" type. Every class of subject has been photographed. Most have been photographed at some time or other in most of the ways they can be photographed. But we haven't seen them all. We may not be truely inovating by re-inventing things we have not seen before. But do we really care.
  8. What are the visual frontiers of the medium?
    The frontiers of any individual photographer we can all agree are there to be stretched by re-visiting known subjects, exploring an extant genre, etc. I am as fascinated and excited as the next person about doing this.
    I guess what I am wondering is whether the medium is now fully matured in terms of its visual language or is it still evolving and if so in what ways? A new genre, new visual devices, metaphorical devices, visual symbols, etc. that become part of the shared grammar with which we communicate.
  9. Is it really necessary to be original?
    I tend to work with the question in mind 'can I make photographs of the things I like and think are beautiful'. Even when million other pictures have been made of a sunset, why shouldn't I make my version?
    If you get bored by your own work, then it is time to explore something you never did before.
  10. Ellis - please explain.
  11. •Where are the visual frontiers of the medium?
    We will never reach the frontiers of the medium. We will create the way while
    walking on it!
    Its a horror to imagine that anybody could shoot the ultimative picture of a
    subject. That would implicate, that every viewer would see the picture in the
    same way.
  12. This question comes up all the time, and it just seems silly. It's like saying, well some
    one else has been to (name famous location) before, why should I bother going there.
    Other eyes have already seen it. If you take that approach, how could you even get up
    and out of bed each morning?

    Yeh, someone else might have done something before. What do you care about that!?
    Have *YOU* done it before? Is it something you want to experience? something you
    want to see or explore?
  13. It doesn't matter if it's been done before. Every song has been played before too but it is the person playing the song or taking the picture that makes something meaningful.
  14. It is your own unique vision and the experience of the moment that makes the samethings different. It is kinda like a performer like Johnny Cash doing somebody elses song,,but he makes it his song,, and something new to the listener, even though you heard the song before ,,but not the way Cash did it.
  15. Who cares? I know that 1,542,236,483 pictures of roses already exist, but I took a few shots of my mother's roses last week anyway. Will they be featured on the news tomorrow, maybe not, but I think they will be better than my last flower pictures and hopefully my mom will enjoy them.

    My philosophy is to photograph people and things that I enjoy photographing. If others like them too, that's a bonus, but I do not avoid things like flowers and sunsets simply because they have been shot billions of times.

    If you want to be a famous photographer you certainly need a different vision or a unique passion. One perfect picture is not likely to make you famous, but if you spend the next 20 years photographing a few specific subject, you may indeed have a chance at having the best portfolio for one niche market.
  16. OK, I'll give it one more try.

    WHAT I AM NOT ASKING: Is there any point photographing what has already been photographed? (Answer, yes for all the reasons stated so far and many more.)

    WHAT I AM TRYING TO ASK: Does anyone know of any really ground breaking artists working in this medium?
  17. John, I don't think that question can be asked untill someone comes up with the eternal question "is photography art". Right after someone comes up with a clear definition of what art really is.
  18. I was listening to the radio this morning nd NPR had Richard thompson on doing a
    cover of "oops! I did it Again" (yes, the Britney Spears hit from a few years back) . I
    have heard Thompson perform this song about three or four times. I don't think I
    have heard the same interpretation of it twice. I've heard it as a fairly straight pop
    song, I've heard him do it in a pretty straight forward Renaissance type arrangement,
    and I've heard him do a fairly ominous version and a fairly snarly version too. Each
    time It has een just just Thompson and an acoustic guitar. Now granted that Richard
    Thompson is a better songwriter and musician than 99.99 % of the people on the
    planet, probably means that he can dig deeper into what appears to be a disposable
    lightweight pop song and find a way to spin it differently

    My point is: just because the same subject matter is in front of your cmera that has
    been in front of someone else's camera -- or even yours at a different time -- doesn't
    mean mean that you can't revisit that "subject" and see something you haven't seen
    beforeor find some way of using that "subject" to express something else , or maybe
    just to find a different way to express what you want to communicate.
  19. John

    Though I'm sure it will cause howls of anguish, I'd say that the evolution of photography and "ground breaking" advances are likely to come through the use of digital techniques (manipulations).

    If I knew what they were, I'd be out there leading the pack, so I can't cite examples. I just have a feeling that the creative space which digital enables is where photography will find it's "next big thing".

    I don't see this as an advancement in the tools. The tools simply allow greater creative freedom for those with the vision to use them.

    Perhaps you could cite some examples from the past where you think the visual frontiers of photography have been expanded?
  20. I can think of plenty of physical subjects that have never been photographed at all, and an overwhelming multitude that have not been photographed much.

    But photographing something that hasn't been photographed before doesn't do much for photography as art. I think what you're asking is wether anybody manages to express things in novel ways visually, and I really don't know.

    It happens to me often that I see something where I'm astounded because I hadn't thought of such a photograph before, but I have only seen a small selection of all photographs.

    As far as technological innovations are concerned, I wouldn't get my hopes up. Three colour film was invented something like a hundred years ago. Nothing much has happened since then, and nothing much is going to happen in the foreseeable future. The only improvement I can think of is genuine colour reproduction, but the largest harddiscs in the world could contain just a tiny image with a good approximation to true colours, and no possible method of reproducing it occurs in my imagination, so it'll be a while.

    But I can think of many things I'd like to photograph, and that to my mind have never been photographed like that before. Like what? I may not even know yet :)
  21. On, the two sets of photographs that have been most "groundbreaking" to me are Emil Schlidt's light painting photographs (and yes, I've now seen 20 different good photographers do it, but the styles have almost all been distinctive and interesting) and Carl Root's rust photographs. I'm sure there are many others, but those are some that come to mind that you can access with the click of your mouse.

    As to the abstract question of is there innovation left, I'd respond that the world is an infinite place in every dimension. There is always something new. While one would think the Red Sox have found every possible way to choke, but yet Red Sox fans everywhere know that next season they will find another one.
  22. What matters is not whether it is original, but whether it is an improvement. Of course, one has to define what "improvement" means, but that is part of the fun ...
  23. Ellis - I hear what you say but was wondering who is writing the songs these days.

    Bob - the list is long.

    Strand - street photography.
    Adams - darkroom technique.
    Porter - colour.
    Weston (Brett) - abstraction.
    Arbus - social exclusion.
    etc, etc.

    I am totally in agreement with everyone over the issue of new interpretations of old themes and subjects. The originality is as much from within as without.

    I guess the answer to my question as to whether there are any radical artists in photography is: not at present. I wouldn't rule it out though. Developments in technology are placing control over production of creative works more firmly in the hands of image makers than ever before. Accessibility to the medium is widening and I believe we will see some dramatic work sooner rather than later. The creators will, of course, challenge our understanding of the medium and be branded graphic artists or some such.
  24. There is always be the opportunity to document how locales change over time, even if those locales have been photographed countless times. For example, a photographic documentary study of Manhattan in the 1920's would differ significantly from a similar study done in the 1930's or in the 1940's. While the Empire State Building will always look the same, the ethnic mix of the City, as well as its fashions in clothing and its social mores, will continually change and evolve.
  25. I suspect there are always radical artists working in any medium. Whether they ever break out to a large audience is another matter. All it takes is sponsorship form an influential critic or a show at an influential gallery to bring a new "artist" to the fore.

    Photography has always been limited by the fact that, by and large, more or less, it's limited to things that actually exist. Other art forms don't have that limitation. You can paint or sculpt anything you want - but you can't take a picture of an idea.

    Ot at least you couldn't before the digital age. Now you can and I suspect that either the definition of "photography" will have to change or a new art form will have to be given a name.
  26. John,

    If A) you think everything has already been photographed, and B) you think that matters, why are you a photographer? Maybe the answer to this question will help with the answer to your question?

  27. I'd also add that maybe the most exciting frontiers for a photographer to explore - if it's frontiers he's looking for - are of a more inner and personal nature.

  28. There is considerable copying of others' styles, and far too many clichés, as you say. Even talking about clichés itself has become a cliché. Perhaps the best thing to do is not to take pictures, but just imagine that you have. Or to take pictures of other people taking pictures of other people taking pictures.....

    When I travel, I take pictures of the tourists, not the scenery...

    Professional portrait photography tends to look too 'stagey' and calculated, and amateur portraits often verge on the grotesque....

    It's getting rough out there...
  29. Asking the question, "Does anyone know of any really ground breaking artists working in this medium?" tells me you aren't looking very hard.

    Check out: Andrew Bush, Barbara Kasten, Vic Munz, The Starn Twins, Roger Ballen, Barbara Ess

    These artists, to name a very few, show that the only innovation left is not technological.
  30. John- If you want an answer to your *real* question- then why are you wasting your time and energy in this forum? There are 400,000 pictures on this site. From pretty roses, to pretty girls to pretty sunsets. From mass, to rallies, to marches. The span of light to dark in every possible way imaginable (and some that aren't) is here on this site waiting for you to see it. Despite what prejudices the "big" photographers have on this site towards the "masses" of photographers here, I believe if you take the time to truly look at all the work presented here you, John, will find what you're looking for. Just because they're not famous doesn't mean they don't exist. Remember, those we fail to understand, or osteracize, are usually the ones that turn out to be right along.
  31. Jake


    Your point has been proven. I need to get out more. Of those you mention I was only aware of the Starns. In checking out the others I discovered two really interesting (to me) artists: Susan Leopold and Oliver Wasow. Ballen and Ess are also tremendous!

    Erin, this is why I like PN. Every now and then someone prises open your blinkers a little.
  32. >You can paint or sculpt anything you want - but you can't take a picture of an idea.

    This is not right. All media have limitations. You cannot 'paint or sculpt anything you want', but only what you are technically capable of doing, in the specific medium, e.g. in the field of painting you have many, mutually-exclusive choices (oil and watercolor being the most obvious), and the same goes for sculpture.

    There are many considerations about selecting a medium that has the right character for the ideas you want to express, and its durability, as well as logistical and cost considerations. What becomes of it after it has been created? How do you 'express' an idea without an audience?

    Photography is ideally suited to be a modern, digital medium (as an end product, regardless of how the image is crafted) because it has the most economical form of distribution. And it is certainly well-suited to portray and express ideas that are as powerful and eloquent as anything that has been created in other media.
  33. John,

    I don't know where you live, so I can't recommend where you might go locally to expand your view. I'm lucky enough to live in LA and I travel a lot, so I get exposed to quite a bit of new stuff.

    A couple of things I recommend. Go to galleries and not just traditional photography galleries. Also, subscribe to magazines. Here are a few you might check out:

    Art Forum, Bomb, Blind Spot, Contact Sheet.

    Happy viewing :>}
  34. Perhaps you cannot "Paint or sculpt anything you want or can imagine", but you can certainly paint and sculpt obejcts which have no existance in reality. Unicorns would be a trivial example. You can paint a Unicorn, you can sculpt a Unicorn, but you can't photograph a Unicorn (unless you have a white horse, a fake horn and a tube of glue). Thus photography has been limited in its expression of ideas by technological factors. Digital changes this. It also changes the very nature and even the definition of photography - or at least it will in the long run.

    It's also possible that other technologies will change the nature of photography. For example the fact that you can now put a camera in almost anything. Photo cell phones now outsell cameras. You can put a camera in a watch. The very ubiquity of these devices may result in a whole new genre of "reality" photography.
  35. if its new to you, its new
  36. There was no nude photograph made of me.
    <br>Anybody for a new subject?:eek:)(beware: i am a hairy, unattractive male person)
  37. Btw, Andres Serrano is, I think, quite ground-breaking. Not through the method, but through some of his subjects / approach to subjects...
  38. Unicorns would be a trivial example. You can paint a Unicorn, you can sculpt a Unicorn, but you can't photograph a Unicorn (unless you have a white horse, a fake horn and a tube of glue). Thus photography has been limited in its expression of ideas by technological factors.

    Yes, and so are all other media. Still photography excels at certain kinds of expression which are denied to all other media. When you say that one can 'paint [or sculpt] a unicorn', what you really mean is, you can depict the idea of a unicorn using either of those media. No one in their right mind is going to accept that such a depiction was based on direct observations of a living unicorn, because there is no such animal.

    You then go on to explain one method by which you can also depict the idea of a unicorn through photography. An easier way might be to simply photograph a preexisting sculpture (statuette/ceramic bricabrac/whatever) of a unicorn.

    In either case, you only have a representation of an idea about an unreal thing (i.e. a myth that may serve some large archetypal cultural purpose, ultimately grounded in reality). You cannot make something any more real by painting or sculpting it, than you can by using any other media, such as photography or digital methods.

    Although you can probably find a lot of elves people who may be taken in by this or that hoax. ;-)

    (incidentally I have painted and sculpted as well as photographed. But to my everlasting credit &#150; no unicorns.)
  39. I find it immediately overwhelming if I regard photographs as existing on a scale of 1 - 10, one being crappy and 10 being perfect, even though some photographs are clearly BETTER than others, and some seem to me to be perfect. There are other scales, originality and aestetics, for example, that are equally destructive to the heart of the artist.

    For me, photography exists as one side of a relationship and is essentially meaningless without its partner, which is life. I draw my only inspiration from the notion that this moment of life has never been lived before; for me, the process of photographing it helps me to understand it and engage with it. I can't think too deeply about it or I will stop doing it. It is very fragile.

    Nothing I have ever experienced (or photographed) is unique. If I ever begin to obsessively search for some way of twisting the lighting in a way that has NEVER been done before so I will be able to call it Cutting Edge, please shoot me.
  40. There is an infinity of possible photographs.
  41. "... you can't take a picture of an idea." A picture stands in relation to the subject it pictures. But the picturing relationship cannot itself be pictured. For further explanation of this read Wittgenstein. But the valid photograph pictures its subject in a way that makes the underlying idea clear to the viewer, albeit if the viewer is prepared to make the intellectual effort to engage with the picture.

    I once saw a sculpture by Jimmy Boyle. It is a small piece but when I saw it, for me it was almost an epiphany. The piece was so powerful, so dense with content, that my head reeled. Yes, there is cliche aplenty, but just occasionally something really monumental appears.
  42. Chris

    If I understand the Wittgenstein reference correctly (i.e. the 'picture theory of meaning' logically negating its own possibility), I am not sure it does apply to photographs as you suggest.

    Doesn't the work of Robert Adams (albeit implicitly) refer to the 'picturing relationship' that exists between photographers such as Ansel Adams' images and their subject? Or is this simply an add-on to Robert Adams' work rather than a quality inherent within his images.

    This is perhaps getting too heavy. It does come as a change from 'which lens?' and 'great shot' though.
  43. "Given that every conceivable physical subject has been photographed to the point of cliche and that reflexive approaches are now passe..."

    Was this true, the day before the 9/11 attacks?

    Not everything has been photographed yet, because not everything has happened yet.

  44. The image of a modern urban disaster was/is indeed a cliche, brought to you by Hollywood&#153;. Everyone kept commenting how 9-11 was 'like a movie'...
  45. Elvis,

    it seems as though you're saying that because there had been many disasters photographed in the past, this one was not worth photographing. But surely that's not what you mean.

  46. No, I'm saying that the imagery of a disaster (like 9-11) is a familiar cliche to all movie-goers of the past 30--50 years. In many other parts of the world, it is a horrifying reality, until 9-11 for most North Americans it was something happening elsewhere watched on the nightly news (which inspired widespread annoyance of the 'why should we have to watch furriners dying at the hands of our military and allies, it's depressing and besides who gives a sh*t' variety), or an unreal, special fx spectacle (for which the public has a seemingly limitless appetite). In the immortal words of Joe Flaherty, "They blowed up good".
  47. John,

    My reference to Wittgenstein was something that came into my head but the idea is not fully developed. A photograph is a representation of the world, in the same way that words are a representation of the world. The photograph is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional world. But it is not the world - cf. Magritte's painting 'Ce n'est pas une pipe', i.e. this is not a pipe, it is a picture of a pipe. The word 'chair' is not a chair. However, the photograph itself is an object in space. So we have the thing and the photograph of the thing. There is a relationshiop between the thing and the picture of the thing. The meaning of the picture arises from this relationship - it is epiphenomenal. I hope that in taking a picture, that is, in the selection of the subject and the manner in which I photograph it, its significance will become apparent. I looked at some of Robert Adams work and it intrigues me like Eggleston's, in that the pictures speak, to me at least, of the 'strangeness' in the ordinary. His picture of the cyclist on the road is a case in point. I am also fascinated by the work of Clarence John Laughlin who, again, seems to be seeking a deeper significance beyond the purely representational. Some of my own pictures are concerned with this 'strangeness', the odd, random juxtapositions of objects which, by that very juxtaposition, seem to assume a new meaning.
  48. John that's nonsense. There are beautiful women everywhere I look, interesting faces at every turn and nature never does the same thing twice. There are hundreds of sporting events on all levels and there is at least one shot that's never been done at all of them. I've been doing this since the 7th grade and haven't run out of something to shoot so far.
    Find a subject that interests you and go after it. You likely won't find a completely new way of recording it but if you try, you'll come up with something worth looking at, someone who hasn't been seen before. Keep in mind that there is more to it than the photography. Your best subjects will speak to you on many levels. My favorites are musicians, motor racing and brooding dark-haired women. I can't photograph kids or landscapes to save my butt. A good friend is one of the best travel shooters I know. Another shoots amazing air shows, to me one of the toughest subjects there is to do well. A lot of people here should probably get past what they are shooting with and pay more attention to what they are shooting at.

    Rick H.
  49. Partly true...but Even pretending the subject remains always the same way (improbable...) you and me will change in the process, and the way we look at what surrounds us will change by two photos each one taken in another moment, often just some day after, looks different, facing your feelings..

  50. "Nothing I have ever experienced (or photographed) is unique."

    For me on the contrary, Everything I have ever experienced (or photographed) is
    unique. I am surrounded by a billion things that have never been photographed

    Here's an exercise: Take two identical pictures of your most patient model. The
    exposure should be at least a minute apart. Now run an objective comparison on them
    (say, diff the jpegs). Or even try to convince someone that they are two prints from the
    same negative.

    Thank You Kindly.
  51. Every key on the piano has been played, every guitar string plucked, and some drums have been hit in every spot possible, but people keep creating new music.
  52. Your premise reminds me of the quote by one of the former directors of the US Patent Office. He commented that he had seen about everything and that there was nothing in the world left to invent.

    This quote was recorded sometime around 1900. Huh, something to think about!

  53. You cannot make something any more real by painting or sculpting it, than you can by using any other media, such as photography...
    This is true, but I was really referring to the expression of an idea. You can paint (or sculpt) anything you can imagine, but you can't photograph it. Thus photography is at something of a disadvantage, since the other arts can depict reality (just as photography can), but photography is limited in its depiction of the imagined (where other visual arts are not, or at least are much less so). So whereas painting can go though schools such as cubism, pointillism and abstract impressionism, it's difficult for photography to much more than mirror reality (unless you allow liberal use of photoshop and count digital graphic art as photography - if you do that then the divison between photography, drawing and painting becomes very blurred).
    In a more general comment on John's question and some responses, I don't think it was ever suggested that every possible image has been taken, just that the vast majority (if not all) images are more or less duplicates of what already exists. Clearly all images have not been taken. I could take 1 image per second for the rest of my life and all would be technically unique. The question is if any of them would ask or answer any question that had not already (photographically) been asked and answered.
  54. Why do you think so big? - Look around at your neighborhood. Many mothers would like pics of their playing child. I hadn't pictured every girl I was in love with. Wouldn't it be nice to go through old pictures of toys you loved in your childhood? - I can't complain about having nothing to do.
  55. Dead birds from West Nile Virus. I smell a book there somehow.....
  56. not everything has been photographed.

    and not all things can be directly photographed.

    styles and methods have yet to be concieved of.

    the innovations to be made are all creative. technology is merely something that either sits in the background or gets in the way.

    want a good way to be creative? look around at what everyone else is doing.

    now do something else.
  57. There is nothing left to photograph if you think photography is about externalities. It is not.
  58. I find it a risky attempt to translate the need or desire to make a photograph into ideas or words.
    When one says there is nothing to photograph, one could mean there is nothing I want to photograph. Saying there is nothing to photograph would mean that photography's illusion which is to stop time has actually happened in the real world. Nevertheless, time is still not paused and no two photographs have ever been the same.
    Even if they look exactly the same, two photographs are not the same.
    Photographs are not only about visuals, they are about time.
    Yes there are styles and ways to take pictures and when it is said " there is nothing left to photograph" what is meant is that one is stuck behind conventions and cannot free himself from it.
    The big frustration among photographers is their inability to truly create. In some way, they are always dependant on outside events.
    In my opinion, beeing closed minded, saying there is nothing left to photograph will prevent you from having your eyes open which of course will stop you from seeing the photographs that have not been taken. In addition, the hope to succeed will be gone.
  59. Photographers taking pictures of people taking pictures of people taking pictures....
  60. Fundamentally bad premise.

    Originality doesn't have anything to do with photographing an original subject. Was Adams the first person to photograph Half Dome? Was Ed Weston the first to photograph a nude woman? Was Cartier-Bresson the first person to photograph people in the street?
  61. Is there anything left to photograph? Absolutely there is! Even if everyone
    else in the world has photographed say Mt. Everest, I haven't photographed
    yet. That's all that really matters. I haven't come close to photographing
    everything I want to photograph (and never will). It doesn't matter who else
    has photographed something or how many times somebody else has
    photographed something, as long as I haven't photographed it yet, there are
    things left to photograph. And it yes it will be unique, because every
    photographer is going to be there at a different time with different lighting
    conditions and with different interpretations.
  62. No.

    The last thing left to photograph was photographed on March 23, 1923.
  63. Yes!! Photograph what wasn't there until you made the photo. ;)
  64. Saying that every physical subject has been photographed to the point of cliche is not really understanding the broad possibility's and potential that photography as a medium has to offer.

    If one only sees photography as a tool for recording the world and everything in it, than one can easely be mistaken that everything already has been photographed since the overblown use of images in every aspect of the media today, and the re-using of those images.

    But there's more to photography than just pure registration of facts, since photography can also be a vehicle for the more abstract, say the more philosophycal side of life. So has every thought already been photographed? every emotion? every dream? I don't think so and would find it hard to believe if someone told me the contrary.

    For example take a look at

    I don't have the feeling that they have been done before, since they are unique in their own character, this of course apply's also for many many other work of other photographers.
    And when someone does encounter the true cliche in a photograph, then one should not blame the medium and write it of as 'nothing left to photograph' but rather blame the one who used the medium.

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