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Author Topic: Straight Versus Pictorialistic Photography  (Read 23491 times)
terryadey
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« on: December 22, 2007, 10:26:01 AM »
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Hi everyone,

I'm new to the forums and would like to jump in with a couple of thoughts.

In my photographic pursuits I periodically have had certain "feelings of uneasiness" that I often ponder since going digital but have not yet developed a personal opinion on.  
Mostly, these grey areas deal with the fine line between being a straight photographer and a pictorialistic photographer with the use of digital enhancement.


I have no slant towards straight or pictorialistic photography or where the line should be drawn. I consider myself an agnostic in this arena until I develop my own opinions.


I would like to throw out a few open-ended questions and receive your thoughts on them.



1. What do you think of canvas as a medium for straight photographers?

2. Is HDR a comfortable technique for straight photographers?

3. Should straight photographers boost colour saturation to the threshold of having the observer wonder if "this is real" but unable to tell with certainty?

4. When an observer states "it looks like a painting", do you feel comfortable or uneasy or a little bit of both?


Cheers,
Terry Adey
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blansky
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« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2007, 11:51:58 AM »
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I thinkl you worry far too much about what other people think. Take what you like and process how you like it.

Every photographer goes through "phases" and will change his/her "style" at different times. It's part of growth.

So my answer in a nutshell about being a straight photographer or a pictorial one is simply BE YOURSELF.


Michael
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Neil Hunt
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« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2007, 05:13:10 PM »
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I thinkl you worry far too much about what other people think. Take what you like and process how you like it.

Every photographer goes through "phases" and will change his/her "style" at different times. It's part of growth.

So my answer in a nutshell about being a straight photographer or a pictorial one is simply BE YOURSELF.
Michael
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Couldn't agree more - one thing of note though, if you look at really great photographers work its the total package that counts the technique, regardless of how much or little went into it is quite often invisible.

Neil.
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Rob C
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« Reply #3 on: December 23, 2007, 04:40:39 AM »
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Neil

I think I´d go so far as to say that when technique becomes obvious, then the picture has failed on at least one level.

But, having said that, one has to ask the questiopon: who is the viewer?

Don´t forget that we keen photographers are inevitably going to look at everything in front of our noses with at least a little curiosity as to the how, if not actually the why of the shot.

So in that sense, something over-worked might still be perfectly acceptable in the eye of a particular observer. How else would so many sites offer so many ´strange´versions of a more normal reality, and the owners apparently manage to carve successful careers?

Rob C
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mahleu
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« Reply #4 on: December 23, 2007, 07:36:40 AM »
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The editing process begins before the photograph is taken. Focal length is chosen, the composition is selected including or excluding things, film is selected (think velvia versus tri-x). We are never aware of what is behind the photographer or what has been excluded.

When you add all those factors to post-processing you end up with what is basically an individual interpretation of any scene, none is really better or more real, they are only different. Infrared film still captures reality but we can't see the world like that without some help.
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jule
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« Reply #5 on: December 23, 2007, 02:29:05 PM »
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Terry, I am just wondering what you mean by a "straight photographer?"...and a pictorialist photographer?

...terms I am unfamiliar with.

 
Julie
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alainbriot
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« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2007, 04:35:31 PM »
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Terry, I am just wondering what you mean by a "straight photographer?"...and a pictorialist photographer?

...terms I am unfamiliar with.
 
Julie
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Julie,

These terms go back to the late 1800's / early 1900's and to the separation between "straight" photographers, meaning those who did not manipulate their images, and "pictorialists" meaning those for whom manipulating the image in the darkroom as well as using diffusion lenses and heavily textured papers was admissible.

Straight photographers included Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others who later formed  the f-64 group.  Pictorialists included Alfred Stieglitz and Moriarty among others.  Straight photographers often started as pictorialists who later renounced pictorialism.

In my view applying these terms to digital photography is challenging because the boundaries between straight and manipulated digital images is blurry to say the least.  I find separating these two categories on the basis of intent rather than technique to be more appropriate.  

If you want to see my position on this issue read my essay titled [a href=\"http://luminous-landscape.com/columns/just-say-yes.shtml]Just Say Yes[/url] on this site as it further details my views on this subject.

Alain
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Alain Briot
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jjj
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« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2007, 04:55:55 PM »
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These terms go back to the late 1800's / early 1900's and to the separation between "straight" photographers, meaning those who did not manipulate their images.....Straight photographers included Ansel Adams,.... [a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=162770\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
I would have regarded Ansel Adam's work as most defintely manipulated, as his prints could look so different after he played around with them in the darkroom.
I saw 2 versions of one his images from Yosenite the other day, they looked very different from each other. And simply through different darkroom handiwork.
Admittedly he didn't do composites, but his work is not exactly what I would call 'straight' either.
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iancl
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« Reply #8 on: December 23, 2007, 09:47:59 PM »
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I would have regarded Ansel Adam's work as most defintely manipulated, as his prints could look so different after he played around with them in the darkroom.
I saw 2 versions of one his images from Yosenite the other day, they looked very different from each other. And simply through different darkroom handiwork.
Admittedly he didn't do composites, but his work is not exactly what I would call 'straight' either.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=162776\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


Well, he did splice and patch. I have seen a couple of prints where he had taken out a roadway through the Yosemite valley in the final printing.
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TMcCulley
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« Reply #9 on: December 23, 2007, 10:57:13 PM »
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Hi everyone,

I would like to throw out a few open-ended questions and receive your thoughts on them.
1. What do you think of canvas as a medium for straight photographers?

2. Is HDR a comfortable technique for straight photographers?

3. Should straight photographers boost colour saturation to the threshold of having the observer wonder if "this is real" but unable to tell with certainty?

4. When an observer states "it looks like a painting", do you feel comfortable or uneasy or a little bit of both?
Cheers,
Terry Adey
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Terry, I think you are asking for an ethical roadmap where there is no ethical question.  Any picture you take belongs to you.  How you present the picture to others is entirely up to you.  The only ethical landmine that exists is if you represent your picture as something it is not.  If you say that a heavily modified image (wet or digital darkroom) is exactly how something appears then you have told a lie.  If you say that the image is what you want to communicate, or how it made you feel then you have not misrepresented yourself or the image.

1.  I tried to think of lots of smart answers for this but it is probably not a good idea because the texture would distort small details.

2.  HDR is not any different from a painter doing a scene with a very high dynamic range or a photographer using ND filters with film of digital.  All you are really doing is compressing the dynamic range so you can have highlight and shadow detail.

3.  If your film or digital sensor misrepresents a color and boosting the saturation to the correct color then have at it.  If you boost the saturation beyond the actual color then you would be mispresenting the picture if you claimed it was an accurate representation.

4.  That would depend on my intent for the shot.  If I shot a growing thunderstorm blooming up over a beautiful landscape and printed it on canvas then I would be very happy.

Staight or crooked it is all about intent.  If you intend to deceive then do not do it otherwise you should be having fun not a moral epihiany.

IMO

Tom

PS I really like the pictures on your web site
« Last Edit: December 23, 2007, 11:00:11 PM by TMcCulley » Logged
Neil Hunt
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« Reply #10 on: December 24, 2007, 04:33:15 PM »
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But, having said that, one has to ask the questiopon: who is the viewer?

Don´t forget that we keen photographers are inevitably going to look at everything in front of our noses with at least a little curiosity as to the how, if not actually the why of the shot.

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=162659\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Rob, That's sort of what I meant. Photographers are all secret pixel peepers really aren't we - its just an irresistable temptation.

In fact one of the best things about seeing great work in a gallery setting is that it does tend to equalise viewing conditions for everyone. There is a limit to what you can deduce no matter how close your nose gets to the glass, so all you can do is stand back take the whole work in and enjoy. No doubt they'll start putting an Actual Pixels button on the wall soon anyway!
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jule
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« Reply #11 on: December 25, 2007, 04:52:41 AM »
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Julie,

These terms go back to the late 1800's / early 1900's and to the separation between "straight" photographers, meaning those who did not manipulate their images, and "pictorialists" meaning those for whom manipulating the image in the darkroom as well as using diffusion lenses and heavily textured papers was admissible.

Straight photographers included Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others who later formed  the f-64 group.  Pictorialists included Alfred Stieglitz and Moriarty among others.  Straight photographers often started as pictorialists who later renounced pictorialism.

In my view applying these terms to digital photography is challenging because the boundaries between straight and manipulated digital images is blurry to say the least.  I find separating these two categories on the basis of intent rather than technique to be more appropriate. 

If you want to see my position on this issue read my essay titled Just Say Yes on this site as it further details my views on this subject.

Alain
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Thanks Alain,
I read your article when it was first posted, but re-read it again with reference to this thread.

I have also started a bit of research on Pictorialism and 'Straight photography', and am finding that there too is controversy about how 'true' the straight photographers were.

I think getting too hung up on technique and wondering whether an image is 'manipulated/enhanced ' or not only gets in the way of actually responding to an image.

Julie
« Last Edit: December 25, 2007, 04:53:23 AM by jule » Logged

alainbriot
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« Reply #12 on: December 25, 2007, 12:31:05 PM »
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Thanks Alain,
I read your article when it was first posted, but re-read it again with reference to this thread.

I have also started a bit of research on Pictorialism and 'Straight photography', and am finding that there too is controversy about how 'true' the straight photographers were.

I think getting too hung up on technique and wondering whether an image is 'manipulated/enhanced ' or not only gets in the way of actually responding to an image.

Julie
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Hi Julie,

I agree.  "Straight Photography" isn't necessarily "straight."  It is first and foremost the name of a movement, just like Surrealism, Impressionism, etc.  Impressionists painters do not necessarily impress and not all surrealists artists are surreal.  I don't think any of these terms are meant to be taken literally.  

My approach to this is pragmatic rather than theoretical, although I know the theory and have studied the history of these movements.  I now focus on my own work and, as I describe at length in my essay, have embraced the position to "just say yes."  It has made all the difference :-)
« Last Edit: December 25, 2007, 12:32:50 PM by alainbriot » Logged

Alain Briot
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alainbriot
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« Reply #13 on: December 25, 2007, 01:17:22 PM »
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Straight photography was a term meant to stand in opposition to Pictorialist photography.  It defined what f64 group members considered to be acceptable and, coincidentally, what they considered to be inacceptable.  

It certainly did not mean that the prints were made straight from the negative, or that the photographs were a straight representation of reality.  As many pointed out, prints were dodged and burned, areas were spotted out (the then equivalent of today's cloning) and negatives were developed so as to reinforce or lower contrast, either globally (through film development) or locally (by selenium toning part of the negative for example).  And of course B&W, the medium of choice of Straight photographers, is hardly a representation of reality as we see it since we see in colors, not in shades of grey, something that is made painfully real when we realize that visualizing a world without color isn't easy at all. Neither does it come naturally to us.  So much so that we have to learn to see in Black and white.  

It's important to keep in mind that "straight" is just a word, a word used to stand in opposition to another word: "pictorialism."  Both words refer to different approaches to photography and to different beliefs about what was then considered acceptable and inacceptable.

It's also important to keep in mind that these movements date from before WWI and WW2... hardly the latest trend except in the sense that a number of photographers continue to follow their tenets.
« Last Edit: December 25, 2007, 01:26:53 PM by alainbriot » Logged

Alain Briot
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terryadey
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« Reply #14 on: December 26, 2007, 10:27:48 AM »
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I would like to thank everyone for their thoughts.

As Alain puts it in his article "Just say yes":


"if you are a photographer and you show your work to other people, regardless of whether you sell your work or not, you will be asked these questions. If you haven’t yet, you eventually will. It is only a matter of time.  As the popular statement goes: it is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.

And when the time comes, you better have an answer.  Otherwise you will join the ranks of the stumped. I don’t know about you, but personally I hate being stumped.
"


By the way, that was a great article Alain and yes, it needed to be written - as you also said.

I  agree with your philosophy to "just say yes" when asked if you adjust, alter, manipulate, enhance or otherwise optimize your imagery. It just makes sense and kills a probable impending argument that can make the artist feel as if they're hiding something and therefore need to defend something.

My goal with these questions was to see how other photographers felt and if they also had to work through similar issues. At no point was there any attempt to say any technique was right or wrong.

Cheers,
Terry Adey
www.terryadey.com
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dbell
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« Reply #15 on: December 26, 2007, 03:03:37 PM »
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When Group f/64 advocated "straight" photography, they didn't mean "unmanipulated." What they meant was that they rejected photographs that were intended to be  deliberate emulations or derivations of other art forms. From the Group's manifesto:

"The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the "Pictorialist," on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts."

The whole text of their manifesto is easily found using google (I don't want to link it here without permission).

Declarations like this have to be understood within their historical context: this was written at a time when photography was fighting for "legitimacy" within the world of fine art. Group f/64 was rejecting the idea that nothing made with a camera could be the "equal" of things made "by hand." They were also rejecting the idea that in order to be "art," photographs had to LOOK  like the prevalent "art" of the era. In some ways, these ideas still apply, but in others they are quite dated: I doubt if anyone would seriously argue today that Adams, Weston, Cunningham, etc. were not artists or that photography cannot be art. Weston wrote a lot about the  subject of "truth" in photography in his Daybooks, which are still great reading, IMO.  We each have to decide for ourselves what to make of these ideas and how to integrate them into our own work.


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Don Kesler
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« Reply #16 on: December 30, 2007, 08:32:33 AM »
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I approach photography as a vehicle to produce an enjoyable image for the viewer by whatever means I feel like using. I also care more about what clients think than what my colleagues do.

HDR has become an indispensable aid for me shooting static scenes that exceed the capabilities of my camera as far as dynamic range. It allows me to shoot interiors without supplementary lighting, provided the existing lighting is adequate. If not, it allows me to supplement the lighting with low power hot lights and not use strobes to bring up the overall exposure. It allows me to extend the DSLR format's typical dynamic range and gives me files with an incredible amount of tonal information, which if judiciously applied can create extraordinary results. I do not like exaggerated HDR that looks half baked - with that weird shimmer and glow, but that is my personal taste. I do see a lot of HDR shots that are being shown by people without the patience or skills to render them properly, just like the zillions of shots where it's obvious someone just found out about filters on the PS menu bar. I spend a lot of time on each HDR image making sure that it doesn't have an HDR look about it.

I also delve heavily into Digital Art, often with the aid of a photographic image. I am careful to keep my conventional images distinctly separated from these. I am constantly asked by photographers. clients, and general viewers with these HOW I did it rather than if. With this I fall back on something I heard Jim Devitale say, "I don't remember, exactly".
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Ken Alexander
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« Reply #17 on: January 01, 2008, 07:07:14 PM »
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Hi Terry,

Quote
I would like to throw out a few open-ended questions and receive your thoughts on them.
1. What do you think of canvas as a medium for straight photographers?

2. Is HDR a comfortable technique for straight photographers?

3. Should straight photographers boost colour saturation to the threshold of having the observer wonder if "this is real" but unable to tell with certainty?

4. When an observer states "it looks like a painting", do you feel comfortable or uneasy or a little bit of both?
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=162489\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

My responses for questions 1, 2 and 3 are identical:  if these techniques give you the result that you had in mind then use them.  I think every photographer has an idea in their mind of how the photo they just took will turn out.  Getting to that final image means using the tools at your disposal, like the three you mentioned.

Straight vs. pictorialist:  Can't help you there, man.  That's art school stuff.  I took engineering.    

Looking like a painting - Several months ago, I printed an image on a sample of fine art paper I got from a Hahnemuhle distributor at a photo show.  I printed the image without creating an ICC profile for it and without even knowing what profile I was using at the time.  When the image came out of the printer I was very disappointed because it appeared the colours had soaked into the paper and smeared.  I put it aside and thought maybe it would look better after it had time to dry.  It didn't.

I kept coming back to look at it again over the next few days.  The colours were muted and details were indistinct, but there was something about it that prevented me from tearing it up and trashing it.  I showed it to some friends without telling them about my disappointment and everyone loved it, saying it looked like a watercolour painting.  I looked at it again and realized that that's what it had going for it!  It's currently the only of my photos that I've matted and framed.

Sorry...long story short:  to me, the object is to make photos that are pleasing to me and anyone I show them to.  If someone likes a photo because it looks like a painting then that's fine.  If they don't like it for that reason then I'm sure I'll have plenty of other images that will please them.  Substitute "buy" for "like" and I think the reasoning still works.

Happy New Year,

Ken
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Russell Price
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« Reply #18 on: January 06, 2008, 10:57:17 AM »
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I prefer straight photography.  I'd rather see what the photographer saw in front of his camera rather than what he or she created in Photoshop.  To me, so much of what passes as photography today is really photo-illustration.

I still prefer the images of Salgado, Nachtwey, Bill Allard or David Alan Harvey to the over-produced, over-styled, over-retouched creations of Annie or LaChapelle.  Commerce is one thing and its needs are very different from reportage or editorial.  My preference is to see and appreciate images made by photographers who were interested in their subject and how the images can report the reality of a situation.  I have zero interest in seeing images created by photographers who are more impressed with their own production values and how big their crew is or what the art director ate or wore.
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iliosgallery
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« Reply #19 on: January 06, 2008, 10:13:38 PM »
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Presumably, each of us as photographic artists has something individual to express. This is why we do what we do. At the same time each one of us has their own unique history both artistic and personal that serves as a foundation for this work. Due to these individual differences each of us has chosen to realize our self expression employing tools and techniques that reflect these particular experiences and inclinations. Consequently, some chose a 'pictorial' approach as did Henry Peach Robinson, others high acutence images as in the work of Edward Weston or Ansel Adams, while others opt for abstract forms as in the work Frederick Sommer, Man Ray and Aaron Siskind. Others have chosen Polaroid portraiture as in case of Marie Cosindas. Some have shot 35mm BW and hired others to do their printing as in the case of H-C Bresson. Some shoot totally stationary subjects with 4x5 scanning backs; others like Muybridge loved motion. There are nearly as many aesthetic approaches and techniques as there are people that employ them. The only truly relevant question here is which techniques and aesthetics reveal what *you* want and need to fulfil your own expression while allowing every other photographer to do the same. And then judge all work (yours and others) only on the basis of whether the goals set have been achieved. And with a little bit of luck and hardwork as you grow both personally and visually so will your work grow and goals shift.  In the words of that rascal rabbit, Bugs Bunny, "That's all folks!"
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