Francisco Ferrer

Tim's Vermeer

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Two months ago when I entered the theatre to see this fascinating documentary (now on DVD), I was a doubter. I now firmly believe Johannes Vermeer used a form of camera obscura to obtain the stunning realism in his works. This should in no way diminish the master's greatness, any more than we should feel disappointed that a novelist gathered notes in a library before writing about the 17th century. What is especially valuable in the film is the insight and perseverance of Tim Jenison, the Texas inventor who solved the mystery of how Vermeer rendered his photo-realistic masterpieces and then spent five years using those same techniques to recreate an exact duplicate of The Music Lesson. The film is mostly narrated by libertarian Penn Jillette. Here's an essay on the topic by Jenison: http://boingboing.net/2014/06/10/vermeers-paintings-might-be.html

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I havent seen the movie but I hope to soon. My problem is with an interview that I listened to on NPR with Tim Jenison and Teller (this was also my problem with DAvid Hockney's Secret Knowledge) who made an explicit statement that Vermeer's level of realism could NOT be achieved without technology. I'm fine witht the idea that some artists used different technology but in the interview they literally said (I'm paraphrasing) that the way that a "white" wall in a Vermeer painting contains subtle colors could never be seen by the human eye because that is not the way it works. David Hockney went even further hanging part of his argument on the "proof" that since HE could not do the drawings of Ingres without a lens than Ingres couldn't either. This is utter nonsense. That's like me saying that because I could not come up with calculus than neither could Newton. And as far as the white wall example (this example was given as an counter argument to a listener who called into the show) the first thing I learned in Painting I was to look for the subtle colors in everything. Its all a matter of training.

See looking forward to seeing the movie though : )

Edit: AWWW Man I just watched your youtube link and Tim said the wall statement in the video! This is nonsense! Man, maybe I dont want to see the video. BTW there were several artists who were much more realistic than Vermeer including two of my favorites Bouguereau, and Jean Leon Gerome.

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I havent seen the movie but I hope to soon. My problem is with an interview that I listened to on NPR with Tim Jenison and Teller (this was also my problem with DAvid Hockney's Secret Knowledge) who made an explicit statement that Vermeer's level of realism could NOT be achieved without technology. I'm fine witht the idea that some artists used different technology but in the interview they literally said (I'm paraphrasing) that the way that a "white" wall in a Vermeer painting contains subtle colors could never be seen by the human eye because that is not the way it works. David Hockney went even further hanging part of his argument on the "proof" that since HE could not do the drawings of Ingres without a lens than Ingres couldn't either. This is utter nonsense. That's like me saying that because I could not come up with calculus than neither could Newton. And as far as the white wall example (this example was given as an counter argument to a listener who called into the show) the first thing I learned in Painting I was to look for the subtle colors in everything. Its all a matter of training.

See looking forward to seeing the movie though : )

Edit: AWWW Man I just watched your youtube link and Tim said the wall statement in the video! This is nonsense! Man, maybe I dont want to see the video. BTW there were several artists who were much more realistic than Vermeer including two of my favorites Bouguereau, and Jean Leon Gerome.

I urge you to see the film even if you are a doubter (as I was when I entered the theatre). The theme of the movie is human ingenuity, both Vermeer's and Jenison's.

Jenison argues that a camera reads color and shade in a way that the human eye cannot, and that Vermeer's method was to use a lens to focus/capture the image one fraction of an inch at a time, but (pre-invention of light-sensitive plates) to use his own paintbrush to record it.

Let me hasten to add that the subtlety of light gradation is only one of Jenison's reasons for the conclusion that Vermeer used a lens.

There are other, more convincing proofs--but I would prefer that you see them for yourself in the film. It's part of the fun to watch Jenison's "Ah-hah" moments along the way.

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Mmm: When I recently compared Vermeer's works to photography, and he, to an excellent photojournalist - I was much closer than I thought.

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Derek's right: the fact that David Hockney can't paint realistically is not proof that no one else can. Many artists who painted at a level that was almost photo-realist used lenses or other optical aids (examples from a previous discussion), and just as many didn't use such aids.

(Actually, other parts of that thread might worth checking out for anyone who is interested in Vermeer and the issue of his possible use of optical aids. Dragonfly and I had a fun argument, which included 3D reconstructions, about a distorted window in one of Vermeer's paintings. Dragonfly took the position that it was proof that Vermeer did not use a lens, where I took it to be evidence that a lens probably was used.

Many painters paint more realistically than Vermeer did without the use of optical aids. For example, Jeremy Lipking, one of my favorite contemporary artists.

I haven't seen the Tim's Vermeer film yet, and I'm looking forward to it. I love the fact that two of my favorite artists/entertainers/activists are involved in it -- P&T.

Having said that, I see some potential problems based on the preview clip.

First, Vermeer didn't just record what was in front of him. X-rays and other scans of his paintings show that he started with cartoon underpaintings which underwent revisions while he was working, including on higher layers. He sometimes adjusted forms, proportions and the positions of characters and objects as he went along.

He also used techniques such as layering, scumbling and glazing of colors, which aren't techniques that happen bit by bit in discrete spaces on a canvas, and which include more than one color occupying the same discrete space -- in computer graphics terms, these techniques' effects would be analogous to polychromatic Gaussian noise. That's the opposite of what Tim Jenison appears to be doing.

Also, Jenison's system appears to be way too elaborate and tedious when there are much simpler means of achieving value and color matching -- this site is a wealth of information on such simple, standard coloring techniques.

Plus, there's the problem of people or objects moving, and the light changing. It would make more sense to draw quick outlines of shapes and values, and to make general color notes of the moment, rather than laboriously doing the alternating mirror/canvas viewing thing.

And, finally, I don't agree that Vermeer's colors are photo-realistic. His outlines are, but not his colors.

So, I suspect that Vermeer most likely used a lens system only for outlining, and then used other standard techniques for coloring. I think that Jenison is probably on the right track in many ways, but I just don't think that he's aware of all of technical issues that point away from the exact specific technique that he appears to be using.

Having seen most of Vermeer's work in person, my personal opinion is that he used a technique quite similar to that of movie poster artist Drew Struzan, only with brushes and oils rather than airbrush, acrylic and colored pencils, and with a camera obscura rather than an Artograph.

J

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Mmm: When I recently compared Vermeer's works to photography, and he, to an excellent photojournalist - I was much closer than I thought.

Which contemporaries of Vermeer are not comparable to an "excellent photojournalist" in your opinion?

Also, I'd be interested in how you define "excellent photojournalist." Is one an excellent photojournalist if he poses his figures, outfits them with costumes, and chooses a specific, limited color palette for each image?

Does an excellent photojournalist remain dedicated to pure journalism, and therefore refuse to allow his artistic tastes to affect his work? Does he vow not to be personally expressive, and therefore does he intentionally ignore and refuse to use methods and tools of art, such as compositional effect and expression which he brought to the scene rather than recorded its independent existence?

I'd think that if the word "photojournalism" has an objective meaning, it would have nothing in common with Vermeer's images which are extremely intentional, arranged and balance rather than happenstance.

J

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First, Vermeer didn't just record what was in front of him. X-rays and other scans of his paintings show that he started with cartoon underpaintings which underwent revisions while he was working, including on higher layers. He sometimes adjusted forms, proportions and the positions of characters and objects as he went along.

Seems to me that Vermeer would have had to do adjusting as he went along in order to get the compositional precision he ended up with.

And, finally, I don't agree that Vermeer's colors are photo-realistic. His outlines are, but not his colors.

Vermeer doesn't look "photo-realistic" to me, even though I've made the statement about his two landscape paintings that they're just how Delft looks. But "how Delft looks" isn't photo-realistic. There's a shimmer quality in the air which gives an effect to the eyes which I think wouldn't be caught by camera but is conveyed in the Vermeer paintings.

Ellen

Bouguereau, btw, doesn't appeal to me. I'm not familiar with Jean Leon Gerome, whom Derek mentioned as also being realistic.

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Many painters paint more realistically than Vermeer did without the use of optical aids. For example, Jeremy Lipking, one of my favorite contemporary artists.

I have Lipking's autograph..

The top realist living today (that I have also met) is Anthony Waichulis. Warning, if you aspire to realism, his skill level will make you depressed!

Here is one of my favorites300px-TLAdditionAW.jpg

Ellen, We have the largest public collection of Gerome's work here in Baltimore at the Walter's Art Museum

I tried to get Tim's Vermeer from Redbox today but the location I went to didnt have it. I'll try to look it up online (locations that is). I would like to see how the movie's technique would/or if work on a large scale, say a painting that is 10 feet tall, 6 feet of more wide.

Lastly I have the text to a thorough rebuttal to Secret Knowledge if anyone would care to read it, by David Stork

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Lastly I have the text to a thorough rebuttal to Secret Knowledge if anyone would care to read it, by David Stork

How long is it?

Ellen

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Lastly I have the text to a thorough rebuttal to Secret Knowledge if anyone would care to read it, by David Stork

How long is it?

Ellen

its a word document, 12 point text with lots of pictures and diagrams, 56 pages.

edit: one of the "obvious" highlights that Stork points out in opposition to Hockney's assertions that nearly EVERY artist used a camera obscura from the Renaissance on, is the .... self portrait : )

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its a word document, 12 point text with lots of pictures and diagrams, 56 pages.

I would like a copy, but do you know how much computer space it takes? I'm getting tight on my in-box allotment at the moment and might have to clear some stuff out to make room.

Ellen

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From the old discussion Jonathan linked to in post #6:

It's interesting what you say about Ingres, because it is true that there's a creepy aspect to some of his forms. Tim Burton - great! I've thought of them as being somewhat reptilian. Nevertheless, the portraits, especially, are great. There's one of a standing woman with a blue dress on, in which Ingres is telling us about her even in the folds and shimmer of the fabric. Wonderful work. Still, kind of reptilian, though.

I assume that Jim meant the Ingres woman with a blue dress which is at the Frick.

The thought of the Frick directly connected to a question I want to ask you and Derek.

First, here's a link to the Frick's site. The display across the top is a series of photos of that wonderful small museum.

The Ingres painting was a favorite of mine there. Sets my imagination into overdrive glimpsing the woman's mysterious psyche.

My question in the next post.

Ellen

Add: Here's the Ingres woman in blue - "Comtesse d'Haussonville."

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The top realist living today (that I have also met) is Anthony Waichulis. Warning, if you aspire to realism, his skill level will make you depressed!

Here is one of my favorites

300px-TLAdditionAW.jpg

So there's a photo-realistic painting - one which I, too, would call "photo-realistic."

But question: Does is look realistic to you, Derek and Jonathan?

It does not to me, in this sense. I don't get a tactile feeling from it, a feeling that, almost, I could reach out and grasp or stroke the objects in it.

However, there are some few paintings which give me a tactile sense in the rendering of fabric.

Some of Vermeer's.

Example this one, "Mistress and Maid", which is at the Frick.

And this by Hans Holbein, "Sir Thomas More", also at the Frick.

And yet I wouldn't call either of those two paintings photo-realistic. Nor would I think I was seeing an actual scene instead of a painting of a scene.

Ellen

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Ellen,

the file is about 800 kb

The Frick is a great museum as far as quality goes, but it is a horrible museum as far as the "contemplative experience" goes. There are so many people in there that I always feel like I'm in a buffet line with the guy behind me yelling "Hey! Save some for the rest of us!"

I agree that from your description of realism that Anthony's work isn't realist. BUt then again his expressed style is tromp loeil which is to fool the eye into thinking that there is something solid resting upon a flat surface. The table, chair and fruit are to look flat, with the "cut-out" slice to appear to actually be torn out and taped back in place. All of his work deals in flat images (playing cards, photos, currency, etc) which appears to be applied to the painting's surface

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Ellen,

the file is about 800 kb

The Frick is a great museum as far as quality goes, but it is a horrible museum as far as the "contemplative experience" goes. There are so many people in there that I always feel like I'm in a buffet line with the guy behind me yelling "Hey! Save some for the rest of us!"

I agree that from your description of realism that Anthony's work isn't realist. BUt then again his expressed style is tromp loeil which is to fool the eye into thinking that there is something solid resting upon a flat surface. The table, chair and fruit are to look flat, with the "cut-out" slice to appear to actually be torn out and taped back in place. All of his work deals in flat images (playing cards, photos, currency, etc) which appears to be applied to the painting's surface

So, that piece isn't actually torn out and taped back into place?

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Two months ago when I entered the theatre to see this fascinating documentary (now on DVD), I was a doubter. I now firmly believe Johannes Vermeer used a form of camera obscura to obtain the stunning realism in his works. This should in no way diminish the master's greatness, any more than we should feel disappointed that a novelist gathered notes in a library before writing about the 17th century. What is especially valuable in the film is the insight and perseverance of Tim Jenison, the Texas inventor who solved the mystery of how Vermeer rendered his photo-realistic masterpieces and then spent five years using those same techniques to recreate an exact duplicate of The Music Lesson. The film is mostly narrated by libertarian Penn Jillette. Here's an essay on the topic by Jenison: http://boingboing.net/2014/06/10/vermeers-paintings-might-be.html

What a brilliant man!!

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Mmm: When I recently compared Vermeer's works to photography, and he, to an excellent photojournalist - I was much closer than I thought.

Which contemporaries of Vermeer are not comparable to an "excellent photojournalist" in your opinion?

Also, I'd be interested in how you define "excellent photojournalist." Is one an excellent photojournalist if he poses his figures, outfits them with costumes, and chooses a specific, limited color palette for each image?

Does an excellent photojournalist remain dedicated to pure journalism, and therefore refuse to allow his artistic tastes to affect his work? Does he vow not to be personally expressive, and therefore does he intentionally ignore and refuse to use methods and tools of art, such as compositional effect and expression which he brought to the scene rather than recorded its independent existence?

I'd think that if the word "photojournalism" has an objective meaning, it would have nothing in common with Vermeer's images which are extremely intentional, arranged and balance rather than happenstance.

J

Which slightly down plays the work of great photojournalism - as much as he's able, a photojournalist tries to capture the essence of his subject, in arrangement, setting, light, timing, expressions etc etc.

He is not an unthinking recorder of what he's confronted by. That's where -if one removes tools and technique from the equation- the works of Vermeer have a photojournalist flavour, because his approach (his purpose?)is hardly dissimilar.

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Ellen,

the file is about 800 kb

The Frick is a great museum as far as quality goes, but it is a horrible museum as far as the "contemplative experience" goes. There are so many people in there that I always feel like I'm in a buffet line with the guy behind me yelling "Hey! Save some for the rest of us!"

My in-box can handle 800 kb. I'll send my email address by PM.

My experiences at the Frick were between 1968 and 1980, and it wasn't crowded like that then. What you describe is how I felt at the Rijksmuseum last summer when my husband and I were in the 17th-century Dutch masters part of that museum.

Ellen

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I've been looking online at scans (links below) of Vermeer's painting in comparison to Jenison's, as well as photos of the set that Jenison built, and I think that his experiment illustrates that Vermeer greatly deviated from reality.

It shows that Vermeer selectively increased the intensity of colors reflected from one object onto another, and reduced the saturation of certain colors for the purpose of compositional focus. He also did the same with contrast, increasing it in at center of interest/attention while decreasing it elsewhere.

He added greens and blues to shadows where Jenison left them as monochromatic shades of the hues of the same surface, and he quite strongly heated up the oranges of the mid-half tones. He unified the entire canvas with touches of green -- it's analogous to a symphony, it's in the key of cool green.

He brightened the caustics on the pitcher, and created a blue, hue-only vignette along the bottom and left areas of the canvas, with a very wide and subtle gradation. And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, he scumbled and glazed layers of colors, which created a sort of pre-impressionist micro-pointillism, which adds vibrancy and variation that the Jenison completely lacks.

The experiment shows that Vermeer very greatly romanticized what was in front of him, and created images which cannot be achieved with raw photography.

Vermeer:

http://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Vermeer-music-lesson.jpg

Jenison:

http://thedorseypost.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/tims-vermeer1-942x1024.jpg

J

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looks like the movie is not available from redbox in my area so I'll have to rent/stream it from amazon. Review to follow...

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so I watched the movie (unfortunately as a "family-time" movie and not with note pad and pen in hand)

First, the 45 degree angle mirror thing is absolutely brilliant. A simple and yet extremely creative solution to a problem.

Did the movie convince me that Vermeer used this technique or any other projected lens based technology? Well, I've never been opposed to Vermeer using a lens. Unfortunately he has been one of the only artists that I have always been open to that theory, so the real question is did the movie convince me that other artists may have used the technique and the answer is no. I know that the movie DID NOT attempt to say that others used the technique and in the end the movie is really about one mans journey to complete a project, but having mentions of Secret Knowledge in the movie may slightly make Jenniston guilty by association.

As stated in my first post, to say that an artist (an I would actually say anyone, not just an artist) can't see subtle gradations color and shade is ridiculous. The doctor who they interviewed was correct in saying that there may not be "certain" people who can physically "see" more than others, but its not about what you can physically see, its what you are trained to look for.

The curved sea horse pattern is very interesting and a great find.

I can't believe this guy paid rent for a warehouse for all that time, not to mention all the tools he used to bring the room to life. I asked Daniel Greene once what he did with all the construction and models he has built to paint from after the painting was completed. He said he just threw all the stuff away- I was disappointed.

If he took 180 days to paint this one painting and he implicitly stated that Vermeer was also not trained, not an artist; how long does he suspect that it took Vermeer to paint his paintings?

Could this apparatus work on an easel? Seems to be table top only.

David Hockney says at the end that artists were sworn to secrecy to not reveal the machinations of their craft and yet there are plenty of books that exactly reveal that- plates that had to be copied in exacting detail, precise formulas on how to create the paints and mediums, and five years of apprenticeship. The idea that in order for thousands of artists, many of whom weren't successful or were black listed, to keep secret the lens conspiracy they had to create and maintain an entire other history filled with teachers and long hours in front of still-lives and old master copies and all of the drawings and paintings and photographs that depict the classroom and the artist at work and....

Head clamps?

He made a point to mention the soft outlines of a figure in a Vermeer painting (the softening of outlines/edges is, again, a first year lesson) and yet his final painting has some very sharp edges

The out of focus carved lion head in the Vermeer is a very interesting find. but would that actually happen with his apparatus? It has such a small image that you would not find an edge to be blurry.

Leonardo discovered curvilinear perspective, hell regular perspective would be extremely difficult for someone to "find" but someone found it, under there own power, same as people discovered quantum mechanics

I certainly appreciate his dedication to the painting, the longest I have ever painted something was two months and most of my paintings average two weeks. The painting I put up when I first joined this site was 4 days, with only two of those being 6-8 hour days. (BTW, my profile pic is a self portrait I did in 2007)

Again- head clamps? The need for these when your thesis is that the painting is an "exact" replica of reality is strict because the apparent color of something changes when it is turned ever so slightly toward or away from the light. You either have to paint the entire figure in one settings (with no breaks for the models), use mannequins, forget the whole "exact" replica thing and exercise artistic license, or use the clamps.

I'm sure i missed something because I wasn't taking notes.

Oh yeah, his discovery with the concave mirror, relieving himself of the dark room, was great. But did they have concave mirrors of quality back then......

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Oh yeah, his discovery with the concave mirror, relieving himself of the dark room, was great. But did they have concave mirrors of quality back then......

Isaac Newton did for his reflector telescope. Unfortunately his lens was made of bronze which oxidizes and loses its reflectivity fairly quickly. That is why modern reflector telescopes use glass reflecting surfaces.

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so I watched the movie (unfortunately as a "family-time" movie and not with note pad and pen in hand)

First, the 45 degree angle mirror thing is absolutely brilliant. A simple and yet extremely creative solution to a problem.

Did the movie convince me that Vermeer used this technique or any other projected lens based technology? Well, I've never been opposed to Vermeer using a lens. Unfortunately he has been one of the only artists that I have always been open to that theory, so the real question is did the movie convince me that other artists may have used the technique and the answer is no. I know that the movie DID NOT attempt to say that others used the technique and in the end the movie is really about one mans journey to complete a project, but having mentions of Secret Knowledge in the movie may slightly make Jenniston guilty by association.

As stated in my first post, to say that an artist (an I would actually say anyone, not just an artist) can't see subtle gradations color and shade is ridiculous. The doctor who they interviewed was correct in saying that there may not be "certain" people who can physically "see" more than others, but its not about what you can physically see, its what you are trained to look for.

The curved sea horse pattern is very interesting and a great find.

I can't believe this guy paid rent for a warehouse for all that time, not to mention all the tools he used to bring the room to life. I asked Daniel Greene once what he did with all the construction and models he has built to paint from after the painting was completed. He said he just threw all the stuff away- I was disappointed.

If he took 180 days to paint this one painting and he implicitly stated that Vermeer was also not trained, not an artist; how long does he suspect that it took Vermeer to paint his paintings?

Could this apparatus work on an easel? Seems to be table top only.

David Hockney says at the end that artists were sworn to secrecy to not reveal the machinations of their craft and yet there are plenty of books that exactly reveal that- plates that had to be copied in exacting detail, precise formulas on how to create the paints and mediums, and five years of apprenticeship. The idea that in order for thousands of artists, many of whom weren't successful or were black listed, to keep secret the lens conspiracy they had to create and maintain an entire other history filled with teachers and long hours in front of still-lives and old master copies and all of the drawings and paintings and photographs that depict the classroom and the artist at work and....

Head clamps?

He made a point to mention the soft outlines of a figure in a Vermeer painting (the softening of outlines/edges is, again, a first year lesson) and yet his final painting has some very sharp edges

The out of focus carved lion head in the Vermeer is a very interesting find. but would that actually happen with his apparatus? It has such a small image that you would not find an edge to be blurry.

Leonardo discovered curvilinear perspective, hell regular perspective would be extremely difficult for someone to "find" but someone found it, under there own power, same as people discovered quantum mechanics

I certainly appreciate his dedication to the painting, the longest I have ever painted something was two months and most of my paintings average two weeks. The painting I put up when I first joined this site was 4 days, with only two of those being 6-8 hour days. (BTW, my profile pic is a self portrait I did in 2007)

Again- head clamps? The need for these when your thesis is that the painting is an "exact" replica of reality is strict because the apparent color of something changes when it is turned ever so slightly toward or away from the light. You either have to paint the entire figure in one settings (with no breaks for the models), use mannequins, forget the whole "exact" replica thing and exercise artistic license, or use the clamps.

I'm sure i missed something because I wasn't taking notes.

Oh yeah, his discovery with the concave mirror, relieving himself of the dark room, was great. But did they have concave mirrors of quality back then......

Great post.

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