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Author Topic: Eastern Versus Western Landscape Photography  (Read 11135 times)
fike
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« on: October 22, 2006, 06:51:09 PM »
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I was out this weekend shooting late autumn in West Virginia.  I broke the cardinal rule of chasing the light.  I shot clear through midday.  I know that magic light is not a rule and that there are really no rules, but I was struck by how landscape photography must differ in the east versus the west--even while I think most of the "luminaries" are shooting in the west.  

The area that is most different is that in the east you get few wide vistas, and when you do, you rarely get skies worthy of reproduction.  I know this isn't always the truth, but it is a frequent problem.  For this reason, I tend to shoot more intimate landscapes that are easier to control without hazy white skies.  

I also have been musing to myself about morning or evening light in the hills and hollers of West Virginia.  There are some deep hollers that will never get morning or evening light.  You just need to shoot with what god gave you.

For these reasons, I have begun to shoot with a new recklessness that takes as its mantra, "shoot what you are given and be happy."  

I am curious how you might think that "rules" of landscape photography may need to be adapted for different regions with differing strengths and weaknesses.  

Fike
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« Reply #1 on: October 22, 2006, 07:52:49 PM »
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I was out this weekend shooting late autumn in West Virginia.  I broke the cardinal rule of chasing the light.  I shot clear through midday.  I know that magic light is not a rule and that there are really no rules, but I was struck by how landscape photography must differ in the east versus the west--even while I think most of the "luminaries" are shooting in the west. 

The area that is most different is that in the east you get few wide vistas, and when you do, you rarely get skies worthy of reproduction.  I know this isn't always the truth, but it is a frequent problem.  For this reason, I tend to shoot more intimate landscapes that are easier to control without hazy white skies. 

I also have been musing to myself about morning or evening light in the hills and hollers of West Virginia.  There are some deep hollers that will never get morning or evening light.  You just need to shoot with what god gave you.

For these reasons, I have begun to shoot with a new recklessness that takes as its mantra, "shoot what you are given and be happy." 

I am curious how you might think that "rules" of landscape photography may need to be adapted for different regions with differing strengths and weaknesses. 

Fike
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I'll be interested in other responses but I do totally understand what you are saying.  I shoot in western NC-no long vistas--and if so, fairly visually boring IMO.  Again---many areas that never really see the morning or evening light---and so I agree with you---'shoot what you are given and be happy'.  

There was an article several years ago in Lenswork about a photographer that moved from the west to Cary, NC  (Poedmont to eastern NC near Raleigh) and he said something quite similar--and how he had to rethink what 'landscape' meant to him now.  IF I can find the article and its archived, I'll link to it.

Diane F
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2006, 07:58:58 PM »
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I was out this weekend shooting late autumn in West Virginia.  I broke the cardinal rule of chasing the light.  I shot clear through midday.  I know that magic light is not a rule and that there are really no rules, but I was struck by how landscape photography must differ in the east versus the west--even while I think most of the "luminaries" are shooting in the west. 

The area that is most different is that in the east you get few wide vistas, and when you do, you rarely get skies worthy of reproduction.  I know this isn't always the truth, but it is a frequent problem.  For this reason, I tend to shoot more intimate landscapes that are easier to control without hazy white skies. 

I also have been musing to myself about morning or evening light in the hills and hollers of West Virginia.  There are some deep hollers that will never get morning or evening light.  You just need to shoot with what god gave you.

For these reasons, I have begun to shoot with a new recklessness that takes as its mantra, "shoot what you are given and be happy." 

I am curious how you might think that "rules" of landscape photography may need to be adapted for different regions with differing strengths and weaknesses. 

Fike
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I think you have expressed it well. Living in Massachusetts I, too, find most of my landscapes more "intimate" than the typical western landscape. Of course, when the light is doing something special, one can find more gems. As an easterner, I often find myself looking for those intimate landscapes even when I'm on a western photo trip. I'll be doing Death Valley for the first time ever in January, and I wonder how many of my shots will fit the eastern mold rather than the western one.

Eric
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« Reply #3 on: October 22, 2006, 11:49:31 PM »
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I don't think that it's even just an east/west thing. Coming to the Montana Rockies after growing up on the Pacific Northwest coast was a big change. You can see much farther here in Montana than in the rainforest. My photography here focuses more on the sky and simple motifs (single trees, birds, etc). In Oregon and Washington I shot more waterscapes and plant life because the enclosing forest required you to look at subjects up close.
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Lisa Nikodym
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« Reply #4 on: October 23, 2006, 11:54:06 AM »
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As dobson says, it's more complex than "east-west".  Most regions have a wide variety of terrain.  It's just a matter of what terrain you choose to shoot in and what you choose to shoot.

And what fike originally said about getting skies rarely worth reproduction - I'm sure that's true in many places.  What the great landscape photographers often have to do is to wait until those rare occasions when the skies cooperate, or figure out the conditions that give the best skies and plan to be do it then.

Me, I also subscribe to the "shoot what you are given and be happy" approach.  Since I work full time in another field, I can't wait around, and photography is rarely the primary point of my excursions anyway.  In that case, maybe there are other things in the photo that make it worth taking despite the uncooperative sky...

Lisa
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picnic
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« Reply #5 on: October 23, 2006, 12:38:23 PM »
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As dobson says, it's more complex than "east-west".  Most regions have a wide variety of terrain.  It's just a matter of what terrain you choose to shoot in and what you choose to shoot.

And what fike originally said about getting skies rarely worth reproduction - I'm sure that's true in many places.  What the great landscape photographers often have to do is to wait until those rare occasions when the skies cooperate, or figure out the conditions that give the best skies and plan to be do it then.

Me, I also subscribe to the "shoot what you are given and be happy" approach.  Since I work full time in another field, I can't wait around, and photography is rarely the primary point of my excursions anyway.  In that case, maybe there are other things in the photo that make it worth taking despite the uncooperative sky...

Lisa
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Skies in this part of the US are iffy except in late Fall, winter--so that negates some other things--but it is when I often photograph when I want to include them.  Pollution in our mts. plus extreme haze is really a killer most of the time--the coastal areas are generally better other than late Spring, Summer and early Fall also---and they aren't going to get better, but worse, sadly.  NC, western VA and W.Va really don't have long beautiful vistas like some other areas---when you have those they are sadly broken up by housing that is not very memorable.  I've found that I shoot much different here than when I've been out west--or even from when I'm in northern states.   But then, I don't really think of myself as a 'ladnscape' photographer either.

Then--like Lisa, many of us that are able to get into other parts of the world cannot totally change schedules, etc. to 'be there'---so sometimes luck is what we have *smile*---and making the best of the situation.

Diane
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Jack Varney
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« Reply #6 on: October 23, 2006, 05:42:37 PM »
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Fike's message comes at a time in my photo life when I had decided to reject the "grass is greener on the other side" point-of-view that has retarded my creative endeavors for too long.  Now retired, I have the time to overcome my photographic reticence.

I live in Florida. We are the flat state. Boring palmetto covered plains or marsh infested waterways, according to my wife. We have only four seasons here, almost summer, summer, still summer and Christmas. Haze is prevalent all year except for a moment in winter.

We traveled. To Tuscany and the Ciique Terra regions of Italy. We loved it there, but in truth, came back with only a few, out of several hundred exposures, good pictures.

After returning I visited a John Moran show at the University of Florida. John makes boring spectacular, palmetto plains startling and Florida flora fabulous! I was shocked, encouraged and invigorataed. I decided to pick a subject here and shoot it in different light, in different seasons, in different times of day, from different angles and in any other way possible. At 67 years I will learn how.
Clyde Butcher moved east and just look at what he has done!

Btw, see John Moran's site at   http://www.johnmoranphoto.com/ .

Thanks, Michael, for the LL. Always informative and at times it is inspirational.
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Jack Varney
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« Reply #7 on: October 23, 2006, 09:15:58 PM »
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I think there is something to the regional thing. The air in the west seems to me to be thinner and clearer and you get more the sense of distance and sky. It seems like in New Mexico in the winter you can get up on a high place and watch a storm coming from a hundred miles away...

In the east, like in the Shenandoah, you have mountains, but everything is mistier, funkier, somehow. But that doesn't mean it's not great -- for some interesting landscapes of the eastern wilderness type, look at Last of the Mohicans, which was mostly shot in North Carolina.

It's all good.

JC
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picnic
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« Reply #8 on: October 23, 2006, 09:27:42 PM »
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In the east, like in the Shenandoah, you have mountains, but everything is mistier, funkier, somehow. But that doesn't mean it's not great -- for some interesting landscapes of the eastern wilderness type, look at Last of the Mohicans, which was mostly shot in North Carolina.

It's all good.

JC
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A bit OT, but Last of the Mohicans was shot quite close to me--on Lake James in Burke County just northwest of Morganton.  They covered the roads with dirt, tore down power and phone lines, altered some of the landscape.  Its a beautiful area--but looks fairly different after you resurrect the lines, uncover the roads---move it to the 21st century (well, actually, it was the 20th century, I think, when it was filmed).  Power lines, phone lines, poles---development up and down the slopes are things you have to consider in most every composition.  I still think our part of the world is wonderfully beautiful--just that its quite different.  Our light, for one thing,  just has a different feel to it.  It can be very harsh in the summer--even very early and late afternoons.  

Diane
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fike
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« Reply #9 on: October 24, 2006, 08:29:07 AM »
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I find it interesting that several of us eastern folks have interpreted this discussion to be about the inferiority of the east for landscape photography.  I think as far as wilderness and parks, that is a widely held belief.

I don't agree.

Actually, I kind of feel like being a good photographer in the east may be harder, but in the end it makes you a better photographer.  When I head west, I am never at a loss for a fine image, whether intimate or expansive.  

We all know what the liabilities of the east are: dull gray skies, few wild vistas, dense, dark woods.  But, what are the assets in the east?  Colorful autumn, verdant greens, what else.

What are the liabilities of the west for landscape photography?  I don't really know.  Haven't lived there and practiced there long enought to know.


Fike

P.S.  I know that there are exceptions to all rules and that Oregon has dense dark wilderness with colorful leaves that take on many generic qualities of the east.  Sorry, for discussion sake, please indulge my generalizations.
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #10 on: October 24, 2006, 09:15:52 AM »
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I find it interesting that several of us eastern folks have interpreted this discussion to be about the inferiority of the east for landscape photography. I think as far as wilderness and parks, that is a widely held belief.

I don't agree.

Actually, I kind of feel like being a good photographer in the east may be harder, but in the end it makes you a better photographer. When I head west, I am never at a loss for a fine image, whether intimate or expansive.

We all know what the liabilities of the east are: dull gray skies, few wild vistas, dense, dark woods. But, what are the assets in the east? Colorful autumn, verdant greens, what else.

What are the liabilities of the west for landscape photography? I don't really know. Haven't lived there and practiced there long enought to know.
Fike

P.S. I know that there are exceptions to all rules and that Oregon has dense dark wilderness with colorful leaves that take on many generic qualities of the east. Sorry, for discussion sake, please indulge my generalizations.
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I agree. To me, "typical" western landscapes are like symphonic music, whereas eastern landscapes are more like chamber music. Whenever I come back east from a photo trip to more "spectacular" parts of the world, I am thankful that I live where I do, where there is so much subtle, intimate beauty.

Typical east and typical west are different, but that doesn't make one better than the other.

Eric
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picnic
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« Reply #11 on: October 24, 2006, 10:49:37 AM »
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I agree. To me, "typical" western landscapes are like symphonic music, whereas eastern landscapes are more like chamber music. Whenever I come back easy from a phot trip to more "spectacular" parts of the world, I am thankful that I live where I do, where there is so much subtle, intimate beauty.

Typical east and typical west are different, but that doesn't make one better than the other.

Eric
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Lovely analogy.  My feeling is probably that of fike and yours--though it may not have come off that way.  I like the ancient feeling of our worn down mountains and the softer peaks, love the fog we have often, the 4 seasons with the changing colors and hues--and seeing the 'bones' in the winter.  I also like the human element apparent so often--though I enjoy spending time in the less populated areas.  I feel I often have to 'peer' into a landscape  to find more details that attract me.  

One of the big differences I feel and see from the west to the east is more a feeling of 'verdant' as you say---lushness of greens as opposed to browns, reds and golds.  I also admit, having grown up in the hills of western Pennsylvania and living in western NC for many years--and spending time all over the east--that I like the feeling of 'enclosed'---and understand how westerners, esp. those of the plains and southwestern states, feel a bit of claustrophobia and maybe even a bit of feeling 'smothered' as some western friends have told me.

I've been trying to find the article in Lenswork of the photographer that relocated to Cary, NC--I'm sure my paraphrase won't be quite right, but its how I remember it---that the landscapes of the west that took in vast areas of land and long vistas were replaced by those of the intersection of 2 particular roads (he actually cited those roads which I can't remember, but was using them more or less as a metaphor I believe)--that 'landscape' had to be redefined for him--and for me that meant much more intimate looks at our own land and environs.

Diane
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #12 on: October 24, 2006, 04:49:50 PM »
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Diane,

Do let us know if you find the Lenswork article. I'm intrigued.

Eliot Porter comes to mind as someone who, in my view,  was able to deal very effectively with both the grand, western landscapes and the intimate eastern woodsy scenes.

I agree with Fike that eastern landscapes may be a greater challenge. Hmmm. I wonder what Alain Briot would do in a flat, Maine woods?

Eric
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picnic
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« Reply #13 on: October 24, 2006, 08:35:35 PM »
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Diane,

Do let us know if you find the Lenswork article. I'm intrigued.

Eliot Porter comes to mind as someone who, in my view,  was able to deal very effectively with both the grand, western landscapes and the intimate eastern woodsy scenes.

I agree with Fike that eastern landscapes may be a greater challenge. Hmmm. I wonder what Alain Briot would do in a flat, Maine woods?

Eric
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Eric, I did find it but I don't find an archive of the article.  It is in Lenswork No. 51 (Feb. -Mar 2004) and the photographer is Joe Lipka--a view camera photographer.    Maybe some of you have the old issues and can look it up--page 31.

Diane
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #14 on: October 24, 2006, 08:44:57 PM »
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Eric, I did find it but I don't find an archive of the article. It is in Lenswork No. 51 (Feb. -Mar 2004) and the photographer is Joe Lipka--a view camera photographer. Maybe some of you have the old issues and can look it up--page 31.

Diane
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Wow! I just went looking for my Lensworks and the first one I picked up (off the top of a bookcase, waiting to be "filed") was that issue. I may have read Lipka's essay when it came out (lenswork is now the only photo mag I get that I really do usually read cover to cover), but I expect it's worth reading again. I will.

Thanks for the pointer.

Eric
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« Reply #15 on: October 25, 2006, 06:41:18 AM »
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What are the liabilities of the west for landscape photography?  I don't really know.  Haven't lived there and practiced there long enought to know.

I myself traveled the US west only once, so this opinion is probably just that.

After a 6-week tour of the northwest, I somehow felt disappointed of my own photographs of the famous places (especially Yellowstone and Yosemite) when compared to the results from less visited (e.g. Olympic, Crater Lake) or completely ignored (anyone ever visited Steens Mountain?) locations.

So my theory is, that the westerly landscape photographers must be afflicted by beautiful but "photographed to death" places. How can one be happy with their own Yosemite valley pictures after having seen hundreds if not thousand images of that place?

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Adrian
(who never tried to photograph the Matterhorn here in Switzerland) ;-)
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Lisa Nikodym
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« Reply #16 on: October 25, 2006, 11:17:53 AM »
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So my theory is, that the westerly landscape photographers must be afflicted by beautiful but "photographed to death" places. How can one be happy with their own Yosemite valley pictures after having seen hundreds if not thousand images of that place?

I live close enough to Yosemite to go there on a weekend, so I've been there often.  Yes, there are some locations that have been photographed to death (and I've been happy try my own versions of those too sometimes), but with a little creativity and a willingness to walk away from your car, you can find plenty of worthwhile unique places and views that haven't been photographed much before, if at all.  I've taken plenty of worthwhile photos in Yosemite that I'm sure you haven't seen before.  I'm sure other over-photographed places are similar.  It just takes some extra creativity and sometimes hiking away from the standard viewpoints.  

On the general topic, I've been over many parts of the western US, and there is no standard "western" landscape (I've seen much less of the east, so I can't comment on that).  There are high sheer mountains, dark dense forests, foggy beaches, deserts, canyons, waterfalls, rolling hills that look a lot like Tuscany, volcanic desolation, and much more.  It's impossible to generalize what a "western" landscape is like.

Lisa

P.S. to Adrian
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(who never tried to photograph the Matterhorn here in Switzerland) ;-)
I managed to get a non-standard photo of the Matterhorn too while I was there:
http://www.stanford.edu/~melkor/lisa_pictu...pe/Switz27.html
I've never seen this view of it before...
« Last Edit: October 25, 2006, 11:24:37 AM by nniko » Logged

AWeil
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« Reply #17 on: October 25, 2006, 05:15:33 PM »
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I live in Heidelberg, one of Germany's most photographed places. Yes, it is difficult to get a new approach to those over-photographed sites.

There are days when I can't stand the old bridge and the castle. Never mind that the sky looks just right - in fact too painfully right with a sunset just so and clouds in position as if the bureau of tourism had ordered them from a catalogue. Sometimes, they really overdo it by stretching a rainbow across the river. Nobody would believe this image to be a real photograph. In fact, the natural view looks like someone used all the tricks of the digital toolbox at once. Natives avoid this and focus on dreary industrial sites not far from here to indulge in true realism. :-))

Well, I've been in the Southwest several times and I have lived in Baton Rouge, in Chicago and in Boston. All locations have a very peculiar sense of place and light - each demanding a different viewpoint. In this respect, I can see why you would say the West is very different from the East or the South.

Angela
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« Reply #18 on: October 27, 2006, 05:20:24 AM »
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From the title, I was expecting a philosophical discussion on western (well, probably the US given the demographics here) versus Oriental vision!

As a keen exponent of intimate landscapes as well as expansive vistas, I found it interesting, nonetheless.
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« Reply #19 on: November 03, 2006, 08:31:59 PM »
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I've lived in rural western New York State my whole life, and have gotten comfortable capturing the intimate, small-scale landscape images that abound here. Six weeks ago I took a landscape photo course in the Badlands of South Dakota with my 23 year old daughter, who now lives in North Carolina. I found the endless skies and wide-open spaces exhilarating. She found the absence of trees and sense of exposure disorienting and spooky. My favorite images from the trip are huge stitched panoramics that effectively convey the feeling of endless open space. My daughter's best images are very "eastern", intimate compositions of weathered rock and gnarled cottonwoods.
We all bring something of ourselves to the subject we shoot.
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