Diary of a River: Maine woman uses 120 pinhole cameras to document the Kennebec

Maine photographer Johanna Moore lives and works on the Kennebec River in Central Maine.  I saw her photos at USM’s Glickman Family Library in Portland. They are on display there through May 29.

I asked her to share her project — how she did it, what it means, and the photos themselves — and she agreed. For that, I am grateful.

– Troy

This project started in a beaver bog near my home in Central Maine. I made several Solargraphs there for an upcoming pinhole camera workshop I was leading for the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell.

Solargraphs are long exposure pinhole photographs. The exposures can be as little as one day or as long as six months. The streaks you see in these images are the sun as it travels across the sky. Any spaces you see between the streaks are overcast days.

Solargraphs track the sun between solstices and mark its rise and decent on the horizon as the earth changes its tilt.

Starting in April of last year I built 120 pinhole cameras out of metal cans of various shapes and sizes and drilled pinhole apertures to match the size of each can. I lined them with photographic paper and, at the summer solstice, travelled the Kennebec River, from Indian Pond to Phippsburg, and set them in place to see what they might capture.

When this project started I looked at it as a way to document the different weather patterns we see from one region in Maine to the next. In a single day it could be raining in the Forks and cloudless at Popham Beach.

I hoped these images would show a visual diary comparing weather over the 170 miles of the Kennebec River

As the project progressed my response to it changed. I met people living and working along the river, saw flourishing farmlands, and boarded up factories.

Kennebec River camera mapI took time out of my days to sit along the Kennebec River in Hallowell to watch the sturgeon jump.

In most areas the terrain leading to the river is steep and treacherous. I would climb down to the river holding onto my cameras in one hand and tree roots in the other hoping
I wouldn’t get sliced up on the broken beer bottles strewn everywhere.

I accessed the river through the generosity of those who donated land to regional Land Trusts, through boat launches and wildlife management areas provided by the state.

Brookfield Renewable Energy operates hydroelectric dams along the river and maintains rest areas, allows water releases for thriving whitewater rafting businesses, boating access points and camping areas. This access to the river was made possible by a long term contract negotiated with the state of Maine.

I accessed the river through the generosity of private landowners who welcomed me onto their land and who enjoyed the project updates I would send them.

Accessing the river and coming away with a body of work was not easy. Out of the 120 cameras I set out, I lost 38 to vandalism or the weather. One camera was set too low and sat in water every time the tide came in and reached the top of the bridge abutment where I installed it.

Another camera was mistaken for a geocache site; the people who found it opened the camera, signed their names to the photographic paper, and left behind a Shamrock bracelet charm.

At Nanrantsouak, north of Norridgewock, I found a memorial which said,  “The Land you walk upon has been a special place to Wabanaki people for thousands of years. A place where children were born and played, a place where elders lived their lives. Walk in respect on this land so over the next thousand years your descendants will enjoy the beauty that surrounds you”

It was through discoveries like this that changed my perception of this project. What started as an experiment transformed into an ode to the fragility of time and place.

A flowing river is a conductor of time, a leaf passes in front of you for a moment, floating on the current and you can watch that moment disappear downstream. You want to reach out and grasp that leaf to hold onto the moment, yet it is out of reach and only its fading memory remains.

The pinhole cameras captured exposures from 63-134 days. In Dan Kany’s recent Maine Sunday Telegram review of the exhibit of this body of work he said of these long exposures,” When you look at something that long, strange things appear.” I agree.

A snapshot of a scene gives you a moment in time. You see all that is in focus for that moment. These images overlay thousands of moments and make those strange things appear — inexplicable shapes and colors that you don’t see in a snapshot.

And when you look at something that long, some things disappear.
When I look at these images I forget that we massacred tribes of people to fulfill European Land Grant claims,

I forget about all the Bud Light bottles and garbage people have dumped along the riverbanks.

I forget that today conventional agriculture, private homeowners, and roadways seem to be contributing more pollution to the river than paper mills and that there are more reporting requirements to import fertile chicken eggs into the state than there are to import pesticides.

I forget that Cianbro has plans to build a superhighway through the Dead River watershed of the Kennebec River as it bisects the State of Maine

I forget about the fragility of this place because, when I look at the images, I see that what has burned into the photographic paper is what is important. I see what is important for the Kennebec and for all waterways

And that’s The River, the life that flourishes there, and the light that shines along its course.

A friend of mine saw the project and said: these river solargraphs are an essay of life’s movement and its range from darkness to a celestial light. They celebrate the river and connect a question.
What is our responsibility as humans to the stewardship of this wonder, and of all the wonders in the world?

– Johanna Moore

Breathtaking view on Mount Washington despite bitter cold, gusting wind

by Robert F. Bukaty

MOUNT WASHINGTON, New Hampshire — It’s 2 degrees below zero, the winds are gusting more than 50 mph, and the view that 20 minutes ago had stretched all the way back to Portland, 70 miles away, has been reduced to less than 50 feet.

I find some relief from the winds on the eastern side of the weather observatory and manage to boil a cup of water for hot chocolate. My peanut butter sandwich is not only frozen, but it feels as hard as granite. It takes some effort just to crack in half.

Mount Washington is known for its notoriously quick-changing weather. Last Saturday it certainly lived up to it’s reputation.

Up here on the highest point in New England, when you’re socked in by clouds, you get the feeling you may never see another soul. I was having that feeling just about the time I looked up to see a group of climbers leaning into the wind as they passed by a cluster rime ice-coated weather instruments.

The leader of the group, Collin Blunk of Portland, walked over and gave me a high-five. Then he started asking me something — but I had no idea what he was saying. The wind was roaring, and a hat and the hoods of two winter jackets covered my ears.

When he handed me his GoPro, I realized he wanted me to take a picture of his group at the sign that marks the summit of 6,288-foot Mount Washington. When you make it up here in the winter, you want a photo to remember it by.

Blunk, who I later learned writes a blog on his website “The Wild Outsiders,” was leading three friends he met while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. They had all been on the summit in the summer but never in the winter.

The hike from Pinkham Notch gains 4,200 grueling feet in just over four miles. Most climbers use an ice axe and crampons to deal with the steep sections of the Lion’s Head trail.

On Saturday, the day started with mostly clear skies. The alpenglow from a stunning sunrise painted the snowy slopes a rosy red.

Nick Bernaiche of Vernon, Connecticut, who was climbing with Bunk summed up their reason for going: “We wanted to do something epic!”

At only 6,288-feet, Mount Washington “is small in the scheme of things, but it’s the pinnacle for the East,” said Blunk. “Before I hiked the [Appalachian Trail], I always thought the real mountains were out West — but it’s breath-taking every time.”

By 8 a.m., clouds covered the summit. For most people, the cold and lack of visibility would have been a bummer.

“I prefer snowy blizzard conditions to up the ante, rather than the pure blue sky,” said Blunk.

“To me this stands as the most adventurous thing the East has to offer. I’m blown away by the Whites,” he said.

 

 

On assignment: 72 hours covering the Can-Am sled dog race|

FORT KENT, Maine — The 2015 250-mile Can-Am Crown International dog sled race started Feb. 28 in Fort Kent. Seventeen mushers from around the United States and Canada set off with 12 dog teams on a grueling trail over frozen rivers, among tight trees and over hilly landscapes.

When I was told I was heading to The County to cover the race, I immediately asked my co-worker Gabor Degre what to expect and the best way to cover an event this large.

He gave me a few tips. Dress warm, bring extra batteries, follow or drive with someone on the logger roads to each checkpoint, and prepare not to sleep.

I laughed at that last bit of advice at first. But he was dead serious. He explained I would have a blast, but I would not be sleeping.

I decided to follow one musher throughout the race and to make sure to get the first three mushers coming into each checkpoint. The musher I picked was 30-year-old Ashley Patterson of Shirley, Maine. Three other Maine mushers were competing, but Patterson had the best odds of finishing, as she had finished four other times.

On Thursday afternoon, I packed all the warm gear I owned, my camera gear and chargers, energy bars and my insulated water bottle and headed to Aroostook County.

On Friday were veterinarian checks, where I met with the oldest and youngest mushers competing in the shorter races that weekend. I was able to get a better feel of what I was dealing with and make plans to drive to each checkpoint with a race volunteer.

But before that, I was able to take a three-dog sled team around the property of Bangor Daily News reporter Julia Bayly. It was an experience I will never forget.

I woke up at 8 a.m. Saturday, dressed in all my warm layers, packed my ruck and headed to Main Street in Fort Kent to watch the 30-mile and 60-mile races take off.

I met up with Patterson while she was getting her dogs ready for the start of her race. I did a quick interview with her and then let her go back to putting booties on her 12 dogs. At 10:30 a.m., Patterson was off into the woods of Maine on her way to the first checkpoint in Portage Lake and I was headed back to the finish line to file photos and meet with Mike Daigle, who would be taking me around for the weekend.

Like everyone else helping with the races, Daigle volunteers his time as checkpoint coordinator for the weekend. When he’s not carting me through the backwoods of the Can-Am, he’s a Maine forest ranger. He is a super nice guy, and I knew from the start he was going to make this trip fun.

Around 2:30 p.m. we loaded our gear into the back of his pickup truck and started the 45-minute drive to Portage Lake.

It was amazing how dedicated and friendly the volunteers were at all the checkpoints. The minute we got there they set up a table for me to edit and asked if I needed anything else.

Around 4 p.m., I was introduced to a gentleman who would be snowmobiling me across Portage Lake to catch the first few mushers coming into the checkpoint. This was my first time riding on a snowmobile, let alone riding on one backward and hanging off the side to get the shots I needed (the second photo in my photo gallery is from this postion), but I had a blast.

As night fell, Patterson made her way across the lake and to the checkpoint. I followed her into the dog- and musher-only area and started taking photos of her caring for her dogs.

This is when I encountered the first of many obstacles: the lack of light. I had to rely on the headlamps from the mushers and the headlamp I wore to illuminate the photos. But to me, it worked even better than if flash was used. The headlights help give sharp contrasts to the photos and portrayed the mood of what these mushers were going through better.

After the mushers left Portage Lake, around 10 p.m., Daigle and I packed up and started the two-hour trip into the deep woods of Maine. On our way I saw my first two moose running next to the truck.

The next three checkpoints are kind of a blur. Shooting. Editing. Waiting. Driving. Shooting. Editing. Waiting. Driving.

I did manage to get an hour nap at the second checkpoint but other than that I was awake, just like the mushers. The lack of sleep was another challenge I had to overcome.

In this job you are put in situations where you might be awake for long periods of time, but I have never been up for more than 72 hours with only an hour of sleep. My mind started playing tricks on me, the way I was seeing colors was getting odd.

But like any athlete, you train your body to go into an almost autopilot mode when pushed to its limits. Your muscle memory takes over and you no longer have to think about what you are doing.

This is what happened to me. My instincts took over, regardless of my inability to make coherent sentences.

Around midnight Monday I was dropped back off at the ski lodge in Fort Kent to wait for the first finishers to cross. At 2 a.m., Martin Massicotte crossed the line first. Six hours later, Patterson enthusiastically finished, coming in fourth and the first woman to cross the line.

I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep, or if it was because I had just watched animals and humans with incredible endurance complete a huge accomplishment, but I teared up while Patterson hugged her dogs and family.

These are the assignments I live for, where I not only learn something new but can discover something about myself in the process.

 

A little green to combat the gloom

Text by Brian Feulner
Photos by Ashley L. Conti

It seems to be a tradition that every year around this time in early March that we head out to look for green houses or floral shops to give our readers a little slice of what’s to come.

This year BDN photographer Ashley Conti visited Ellis’ Greenhouse in Hudson.

“It smelled like spring.” said Conti

Conti just recently arrived back to Bangor after covering the Can-Am dog sled races in northern Maine.

“It was 68 degrees in there and a far cry from Fort Kent.” said Conti

Photography in an abominable snow cave

 

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Brian Feulner photographs Unity College students building a snow shelter for their winter ecology class at the school. John Holyoke


If you follow the BDN outdoor editor John Holyoke, you likely read his story about braving a quinzhee, a type of snow shelter, at Unity College earlier this week.

I was the photographer that traveled along on the escapade and discovered a few tips I’d like to share.

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Special gloves allow the usage of a touch screen.

One thing I failed to do was to bring along my smartphone – friendly gloves. These gloves allow electrical conductivity from your body to your smartphone’s touch screen and provide screen control. Regular gloves just won’t work. The other good thing about these gloves is that they act like a base-layer and fit snugly underneath my winter gloves, keeping my hands extra warm.

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Brian Feulner photographs Unity College students building a snow shelter for their winter ecology class at the school. John Holyoke

 

Because John and I maintained a live blog uploading tweets, photos and videos throughout the experience I heavily relied on my iPhone. So unfortunately for me, my hands froze every time I needed to tweet.

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Unity College senior, Sierra Marchacos digs out the snow shelter from the inside. The condensation inside the cave caused my lenses to fog up. Brian Feulner

 

Another problem I ran into was the condensation inside of the shelter itself. There’s one point in my video interview where I’m talking to Sierra Marchacos, a Unity College Senior.

Almost as soon as I entered the cave condensation started fogging up my lens. This is where bonehead mistake #2 comes in… I didn’t bring a lens cloth. Usually in this case I use my cotton t-shirt. But because I was sleeping in the cold the last thing I wanted to wear was cotton. I wore all wick away layers, which didn’t help wipe away the moisture at all.

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The snow shelter at night. Brian Feulner

 

Lastly was my snow cave lighting. I skipped sunset, in favor of a warm dinner, and had the idea of lighting the snow cave from the inside and out with a flash unit. (I did a similar shoot of some  ice near the Kenduskeag Stream in a recent post.)

There were two problems I encountered.

First the walls of the shelter were too thick to get any glowing light from the inside with the flash. Second, lighting it from the outside seemed like a good plan except for the fact that the cave was located on a college campus with a lot of ugly, orange glowing street lights. The lights were too distracting and, I think, killed the photo.

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BDN Outdoor Editor John Holyoke crawls out of the snow shelter early in the morning and braves the cold. Brian Feulner

 

I had another chance.

The early morning light cast a beautiful array of
pink, purple and bluish color tones on the snowy dome. The addition of an exhausted reporter who just crawled out of the shelter was just the human element I needed to tell the story.

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BDN Outdoor Editor John Holyoke crawls out of the snow shelter early in the morning and braves the cold. Brian Feulner

 

5@50 February 25, 2015

It’s been a while since I did this. It shows. I’m out of practice.

In fact, I haven’t gone out on a 5@50 hunt since before we had any serious snow. It was way back at the beginning of January that I last roamed the streets of Portland (my hometown) looking to make five pictures with my trusty 50mm lens.

I admit, these photos are not my best work. But I’m committed to posting whatever I come up with — no crazy cropping, Photoshop tricks or pictures taken over several different days — just five pictures at 50mm.

That’s a challenge, but challenging myself is the point.

Tips for finding and photographing Maine wildlife

“Here it is,” said Sharon as a small bridge came into view. She slowed the car and rolled down her window. Below, mounds of snow lined the stream, which was surprisingly free of ice in the depth of winter. And in the rushing water were more than 100 ducks. Mallards, mostly — the males with their iridescent green heads, and the females dressed in light brown. But there were also goldeneyes, small dark ducks named for their bright gold stare. And in the distance, common mergansers, which I always think look like punks, with their spiked up crowns and razor-sharp bills.

But we were looking for northern pintails, a duck I’d never seen in person. And they were nowhere in sight.

Though a bit disappointed, we weren’t at all surprised. You can never pinpoint exactly where a wild animal will be. One day a bird loafing under a bridge, and the next day it can be miles away. But we didn’t give up right away.

We explored the neighborhood and found another bridge up river. And there they were, pintails, fishing in a pool at the mouth of the stream. Their long, thin tails waved in the air and their grey legs flailed as they dipped their heads underwater in search of food. They were a bit too far away to photograph from the car, so I convinced Sharon to follow me over a large snowbank and through the deep snow along the edge of the water, where we stood behind a tree and snapped photos around the trunk with our 100-400mm lenses.

They were big ducks, larger than mallards. The males were handsome, with solid chocolate brown heads that shined with a touch red in the sun. They had long white necks, grey bodies and a black tail that tapered to a thin black point. The females, as usual with birds, were less flashy, their plumage a delicate pattern of light browns and white.

Our fingers froze quickly in the frigid wind, and after about 15 minutes, we retreated to the car, both of us smiling and cursing the weather. Before I write any more, I think I need to make clear that I’m new to the world of wildlife photography. I’m a novice. But I also think I have gathered some knowledge about the activity worth sharing.

When I started photographing animals, it was while hiking. I’d stumble upon an animal by chance, do my best to capture an image of it, and continue on the trail. Over time, I noticed that I was a lot more likely to see animals if I hiked alone. After all, one person makes a lot less noise in the woods than two. So I came to view wildlife photography as a solo activity. However, in the past year or so, my approach has entirely changed. I’ve come to realize that photographing wildlife doesn’t need to be a lonely venture.In fact, I’ve been more successful at finding wildlife and improving my wildlife photos from networking with other photographers and nature lovers. After all, the only reason I got a photo of pintail ducks is because a fellow wildlife photographer named Gail told Sharon about them, and Sharon offered to show them to me. Otherwise, I’d never have known.

In that vein, it was Sharon who suggested I check out MAINE birds, a Facebook group with the purpose to educate the public about birds. The group, which is currently 1,874 members strong, is extremely active. Members post bird photos constantly throughout the day, and people comment, stirring discussions about everything from animal behavior to birding ethics. I’ve learned a great deal about birds and photography just from reading the group’s many posts.

Another popular place for people to network is the Google group “Maine Birds,” where birders post sightings on a regular basis. And then there’s eBird, a website that compiles public bird sightings from all over the world. These networks help wildlife photographers answer the big question: Where do I find wildlife? But there’s more to it than that. I’ve discovered I’m more successful at finding a particular species if I know a little something about it — chiefly, the habitat where it typically hunts or forages for food.

For example, the more I’ve learned about osprey, the easier they’ve been to find. I know what their nests look like and where I might find them — on old dock pilings or atop telephone poles. In the Bangor area, I’ve come to know several osprey nest locations. And when the alewives are running, I know to look to the rivers, especially near dams, where osprey swoop down with deadly accuracy to pluck the eels from the rushing water. Some of that knowledge comes from reading, but mostly, I’ve learned from talking with other wildlife enthusiasts and going out to photograph wildlife with others who are more experienced than I.

It takes time, but all of a sudden, you realize that you’re seeing more wildlife simply because you know where to look. If you’re heading outside today in search for some wildlife, here are a few tips:

  • Find water. The ocean, lakes, ponds, wetlands — these bodies of water all attract a variety of wildlife. If it’s winter time, try to find water that isn’t iced over. And if you find waterfowl there, look up at the trees, you’ll likely find an eagle getting ready to take one for a meal.
  • Crabapple trees and berry bushes are popular spots places in the winter to find a variety of birds, including the colorful cedar waxwings and Bohemian waxwings. And bushes provide shelter to a variety of birds in the cold months.
  • Put up a bird feeder, especially in the winter, to attract a variety of birds (and squirrels). You can also put out suet cakes, which may attract some additional species, such as woodpeckers. And don’t forget to toss some seed on the ground for the ground feeders such as pigeons, crows, mourning doves, etc. If you don’t have room for an avian circus in your backyard, visit a Maine Audubon center or other nature center that puts out feeders.
  • Scan the edges of fields for birds of prey such as owls and hawks. While you typically won’t see most owls until dusk, the snowy owl, which migrates down from the Arctic in the winter, is often active during the daytime. This majestic bird has recently been a big hit among birders in Maine.

Of course, there’s a lot more to wildlife photography than finding animals. Once you have the critter in your sight, you need to make sure not to scare it away.

Respect wildlife and keep your distance. This will require you to have a zoom lens, at least 300mm, if not 400mm. In fact, plenty of wildlife photographers I’ve met have 500mm and 600mm lenses, which cost a pretty penny. Often you can avoid disturbing wildlife if you photograph from within a shelter, such as an observation blind. If you’re photographing from inside your car, you’ll want to turn your car off so the engine doesn’t make your camera vibrate, which will mess up the clarity of your photos.

Many people insist on using tripods, while others shoot by hand or steadying their lens against a stable object. Then you have to judge what settings you need to get a crisp, detailed, well-lighted photo. If you expect the animal to move quickly or fly, you’ll need to use a faster shutter speed to capture the movement without blur.

If the sun comes out from behind a cloud, you need to adjust accordingly. All of these little details are important. And even the seasoned photographer makes mistakes in the excitement of the moment. And then there’s the cold hard truth that wild animals cannot be counted upon to actually show up.

If you decide to pursue wildlife photography, there will be plenty of times when you go out and don’t find a thing. It’s disappointing, but I think it makes finding an animal that much more exciting and rewarding. Lastly, once you start to network with other wildlife photographers, you’ll learn it’s a big community with a lot of talented people. You will see amazing photos, stuff that will make you think in dismay, “I could never produce something like that!” And maybe you won’t.

My best advice for someone looking to get into photographing wildlife is this: Do it because you enjoy it. Don’t do it for money or recognition or success. Do it because you truly enjoy the process, from the hours spent outdoors to sharing your images and experiences with others. Do it because you treasure wildlife and want to learn more about it. That way, I promise you, you can’t go wrong.

Kenduskeag ice scapes

“Are you ready?” asked Phil Gibson, my neighbor and Tennessee native.

“Yup,” I replied.

“Ok, 1, 2, 3” he counted.

On three, the shutter of my Canon 5d Mark lll clicked off and echoed through the hundreds of pounds of sharp, pointed ice that was hanging over my head.

Immediately, I started firing off a round of flashes trying to evenly back light the massive icicles from where I stood in the cavern that they created.

The camera shutter was set to 30 seconds, so about half way through I carefully crept to the other side of the ice cave, slipping across the ice with every step. There I began firing of flash bursts trying to light the other side.

When it was all done, we had our shot.

The photo was the start of a long-term project about the Kenduskeag Stream that I started working on. The goal is to show a collection of images from the stream over several months. The final product will hang in my gallery, the Feulner Gallery and Studio. My other goal is to raise awareness about the stream, its beauty and its potential as a recreational spot.

Only minutes from Bangor, the stream runs directly through the city. Trails connect the stream from downtown and meander past stunning cliff edges and stream access points. As someone who has walked those trails several times, they’re not maintained as well as they could be and are frequented by people who decide to either sleep along the streams banks or leave their trash in various heaps.

The stream is a treasure and hopefully our work, as dangerous as it might be sometimes, will help to keep it protected.

Covering the 2015 Eastern Maine basketball tournament

To say I shot a lot of basketball last week would be an understatement. In a week and a half span, I shot around 17 games and averaged about 600 images a game.

That’s a lot of basketball. That’s a lot of repetition.

In situations like this it becomes very important to keep pushing yourself to find interesting moments and to keep trying to cover the event in a different way.

Like I said in the The Frame post on the Hermon basketball coach, sometimes the best images don’t come from game action but rather what’s happening off the court.

While game action is important, I don’t necessarily think it is the most important thing at a game. Crowds, coaches, players on the benches usually tell the story better than the person going up for the layup.

High school sports, especially tournament play, are full of emotions. This could be someone’s last game that they ever play. Dejection is just as important as jubilation.

Watching for and knowing where those especially emotional people are is helpful when something big happens.

When I cover basketball I shoot with three bodies, one with a 24-70mm, one with a 70-200mm and the third with a 300mm.  This allows me to see the game in a multitude of ways and allows me to almost be in two places at once.

Though I do move around a good deal while shooting too. From court side, to to top of the arena and everywhere in between. I’m always searching for an interesting angle. It not only keeps me interested but it keeps the photos interesting too.

For the finals on Saturday I mounted a remote camera over one of the nets, similar to the one I did for state cheerleading,  to give a different perspective to viewers after a week of seeing similar images. They turned out better than expected and gave a totally different view on the typical shooting shot that I had seen thousands of times that week.

Large tournaments like this are not only physically but mentally daunting, as is doing anything over and over again in a short period of time. I’m glad the bulk of the tournament is over. I walked away with some interesting photos that I’m pretty proud of.

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