Location:Tanfield Railway

I was surprised to realise that I’d never properly blogged about Tanfield Railway, apart from a passing mention in my review of the Olympus 35RECR camera, despite the fact that it’s one of my most frequent photo locations. So, time to put that right with a small selection of images from two visits in December 2013.

Tanfield Railway, located between Stanley in County Durham and Gateshead,  is apparently the oldest working railway in the world, having been constructed in 1725. Of course there were trains then but there was a waggonway with horses pulling coal-wagons and the railway is still operating with vintage steam and diesel locomotives.

Tanfield offers a variety of photographic opportunities. There are of course, vintage engines and carriages, in regular use, and potential people shots, of the volunteers who run the railways or the paying passengers. My own preference is to seek out the quieter corners in and near Marley Hill engine shed. The engine shed looks like a museum – not unlike the nearby Beamish museum – but here there are no ropes beyond which you cannot step. As long as you don’t disturb the work going on, you can get close to the engines, tools, and miscellaneous paraphernalia.

Outside the engine shed there’s a large area with about 30 engines, carriages, cranes, etc, in various states – some working, some being actively restored, and others close to ruin. So you can expect lots of rust, flaking paint, spare parts, and industrial heritage partly covered by grass.

Since my trip to Glen Affric in November 2013, I didn’t do much photography for a while – partly because the weather was very grey and wet, and partly because I had lots of developing and scanning to attend to. But I did make two short visits to Tanfield in December; it’s only about 15 minutes drive.

The first trip was with a Canon FTb 35mm SLR which I’d had for a while but used very little. I had a roll of Kodak TMax 100 loaded which I wanted to finish off; it took another trip to Durham the following March before the film was finished so it was in the camera at least 4 months – which isn’t uncommon because I’m fairly sparing in how many times I press the shutter and usually have a few different cameras loaded with film and vying for my attention.

The following images were all taken with either 28mm/f2.8 or 50mm/f1.8 prime lenses, and the film was developed in Rodinal diluted 1+50.

Although there’s a lot to be said for taking just one camera and one film type on a trip, I did see a few possible images which really cried out for colour, so I returned two weeks later with the Mamiya RZ67 loaded with Fuji Velvia 50, which I developed in the Tetenal E6 kit.

 

 

The weather was even more wet and cold than the previous trip, but the Velvia was a good choice to bring the colours out of the gloom. The “Santa Special” trains were running so I queued up with the waiting families for a hot chocolate and mince pie to warm up before heading for home.

To sign off, here’s an older image to show that these engines do work !

Whoosh !

 

Glen Affric trip – Day 4 – a ducking for the Yashicamat

The WalkHighlands website again served as my guide for Day 4 of my Glen Affric trip as I set out for the Loch Affric Circuit on what turned out to be a very wet day. I should have taken more notice of the line in the route description that reads “stream crossings may be hazardous in wet weather” … more about that later. As this was billed as an 11.25 miles walk I decided just to take the Yashicamat 124G and a tripod, and leave the Mamiya RZ67 behind.

I had one frame of Rollei IR400 film left in the camera from the previous day which I used to take the image below, approaching Affric Lodge. Some of the images on the film weren’t brilliant due I think to poor processing on my part; as this one was a bit grungy I decided to grunge it up some more with Adobe Lightroom.

2011-11-12, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, IR400, 2_

The road to Affric Lodge – Yashicamat 124G and Rollei IR400 film

After that, I switched to slide film – first a roll of Provia 400X, then Velvia 50.

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 5

Giant hedgehog taking a drink ? Yashicamat 124G and Fuji Provia 400X

At this point it was raining softly and I was beginning to wonder why the guides made a fuss about stream crossings. I did come to one spot where a stream decided to divert itself down the path, and a bit of boulder-hopping was needed, but nothing difficult.

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 9

By the time I arrived at this bridge crossing the Allt Coire Leachavie, (Allt just means stream) it was starting to rain harder, and I could also see more clearly the effect that rain in previous days was having on the amount of water running off the hills. I also managed to drop the Yashicamat in the stream at one point and was a little worried about the effects (try doing that with a digital). I’m happy to say there were no ill-effects, even though I could feel the film was wet when I loaded it for processing a week later !

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 2

Bridge over the Allt Coire Lochavie – Yashicamat and Provia 400X

Yashicamat 124G and Provia 400X

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 3

Lunch spot. Yashicamat 124G and Provia 400X

After another couple of hundred metres I got my first glimpse of the Allt Coulavie, and specifically of the series of waterfalls called “Sputan Ban” which tumble down for about 700 metres. Now, anywhere in England, this would be a well-known feature, endlessly portrayed in gudebooks, and perhaps with two coffee shops, one at each end. But here in the Scottish Highlands, it just passes as one more stupendous sight in an array of natural wonders. If you search on flickr right now for “Sputan Ban” you will see just four images, and two of those are mine.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 6

As I wandered along I admired the scale and force of the falls but it hadn’t yet dawned on me that I was going to have to cross this raging torrent, if I was to follow the full “Affric Circuit” walk. Perhaps because an estate landrover track had veered over to the right into a side glen, perhaps for deer-stalking, the quality of the track was deteriorating and there was no bridge over the Allt Coulavie, and in its’ current state boulder-hopping was not feasible. I had read somewhere that walking upstream might provide a better crossing option.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 1

By this time I’d changed to Velvia 50 and the weather required 1s exposure at f11; I quite like the resulting movement in the heather.

So I wandered slowly up the side of the stream, admiring the views, stopping for photographs, noticing that the rain was getting heavier all the time, and slowly realising that a crossing point was unlikely to be found.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 4

The Velvia struggled with the dynamic range here, hence the burnt highlights on the water – and a lens wider than the 80mm fixed lens on the Yashicamat would have been useful.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 7

Looking down towards Loch Affric and the smaller Loch Coulavie

Nearing the top of the falls I stopped to take my last image of the day before consigning the camera to the rucksack.

Original waterfall shot with strange colours

Original waterfall shot with strange colours

The shot as taken on Fuji Velvia 50, above, has some strange colours – almost as if it had been cross-processed, i.e. slide film processed in C41 chemicals, but that wasn’t the case. Anyway, I generally find that waterfall shots work best in mono, so here’s the mono conversion.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 3

Near the top of Sputan Ban falls – Fuji Velvia converted to mono in Adobe Lightroom

Soon after this point, the gradient eased off and it probably would have been possible to cross over the stream, climb down the other side of the falls, and resume the route around Loch Affric. But I’d spent so long clambering up besides the falls, and stopping to take images, that I doubted that I would complete the route in daylight, as it would be dark by 4.00pm. I also suspected that the rest of the route would, relatively, be routine after the thrill of observing these falls.

The OS map showed a path going diagonally down the hillside, and back to the footbridge where I’d enjoyed lunch. The path turned out to be more of an indication of a possible route than a firm guide .. on the damp slippery slope I fell down and got soaked so many times I figured that if I had taken my boots off and waded across the stream I couldn’t have ended up any wetter.

On the return route, the days’ rainfall was visibly increasing the amount of rain on the path by the hour, and I soon realised that I needed to replace my old waterproof coat. When I got back to the car, I was totally soaked and tired, had failed in my original objective, but had enjoyed a great day !

Photographically, the decision to take just the Yashicamat (and the middle-sized of my three tripods) was the right one for weight reasons, although having a wider lenses would have been handy at one point. I wanted to take more slides with the Yashicamat, in the hope of getting a few to mount in a very old 6*6 slide projector I had been given; but I would have obtained a higher proportion of “keepers” with colour negative film.

Glen Affric trip – Day 3

Day 3 of my Glen Affric trip saw a varied menu of photographic subjects, including a ruined Victorian mansion, woodland, and a raging waterfall.

The basis of my walk was the “Plodda Falls” route outlined here on the Walk Highlands website, but extended beyond Plodda Cottage to Guisachan House.

Guisachan House (pronounced Goose-a-kin) was built by Lord Tweedmouth in the nineteenth century and is known as the birthplace of Golden Retriever dogs, as his lordship was the first to breed them. Although now a ruin, the house is the site for gatherings of golden retriever owners from around the world.  You can see what the house looked like in 1897 here

2011-11-10, RZ67, Provia 400X, Guisachan, 1

Guisachan House, Mamiya RZ67 with Fuji Provia 400X transparency film

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Glen Affric trip – Day 2

Day 2 of my Glen Affric holiday saw me pack just the Yashicamat 124G, whereas the previous day I had mostly used the Mamiya RZ67. This was partly because I was planning to walk a few miles – although that’s not impossible with the RZ67; some people describe it as a studio-only outfit but I have walked 7-8 miles with it – but mainly because I planned to take some infrared photos using Rollei IR400 film.

Of course it is entirely possible to fit an R72 infrared filter to the Mamiya. However, all the Mamiya lenses use a 77mm filter and a Hoya R72 filter in that size costs around £100; whereas I have an R72 filter with a 52mm thread, which cost just £30.

Apart from cost, the advantage of using the R72 filter – which is totally opaque – with a twin lens reflex is that you can still compose with the filter fitted, since you view through the upper lens whilst the filter is fitted on the lower lens. As long as you don’t forget you have the filter fitted ….

In order to use a 52mm filter with the Yashicamat, I fit a Bay 1 -> 46mm adaptor, followed by a 46mm- 52mm adaptor, then finally the filter.

I followed the “Dog Falls walk” - see here for a map courtesy of the excellent WalkHighlands website.

Before I could begin the infrared images, I had some Fuji Provia 400X slide film in the Yashicamat which I used around the river.

2011-11, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, 23_

Yashicamat 124G and Fuji Provia 400X

2011-11-12, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Glen Affric, 7

Yashicamat 124G and Fuji Provia 400X

2011-11-12, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Glen Affric, 5

Yashicamat 124G and Fuji Provia 400X
The dynamic range here was very challenging with slide film; some adjustments were made in Lightroom, but had I been using the Mamiya a film back with Portra would have been loaded instead of Provia

Once I got into the area wooded with Scots Pine, I stopped for coffee (from a flask – no cafe or pub for twenty miles) and loaded the IR400 film.

2011-11-12, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, IR400, 3_

Coire Loch with Rollei IR400 film and a Hoya R72 filter in a Yashicamat 124G, developed in Rodinal

Coire Loch

Coire Loch with Rollei IR400 film and a Hoya R72 filter in a Yashicamat 124G, developed in Rodinal

2011-11-12, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, IR400, 8_

Scots pine tree with Rollei IR400 film and a Hoya R72 filter in a Yashicamat 124G, developed in Rodinal.

I metered these images, if I remember correctly, at about EI 12 – in other words allowing five stops compensation for the filter.

One of the things I like about Rollei IR400 film is that it gives pretty good results when used without an R72 filter, as a standard black and white film – see here for example. So, you don’t need to commit to shooting a whole roll as infrared.

It wasn’t all plain sailing with this roll of IR400. A few shots were spoiled with this mottked effect, which looks rather like a bicycle was ridden across the negative whilst it was lying on my garage floor … I’m sure that wasn’t really the cause but I’m not sure of the real reason.

2011-11-12, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, IR400, 11_

Glen Affric trip – Day 1

Here starts a short series of posts containing various rambles about my photography trip to Glen Affric in the Scottish Highlands.

I’ve been lucky to be able to visit Scotland for a few days photo holiday each year for the past few years. In 2009, I went with Light and Land to Knoydart, including touring by boat around Skye and the Small Isles. In 2010, I cycled the Outer Hebrides, from Barra to Lewis, with a camera. In 2012, I revisited the Outer Hebrides, this time arriving by car and concentrating on a nsmaller, but stil substantial, area – the islands of Lewis and Harris. The drive there routed me through Glen Shiel and the Isle of Skye.

Glen Affric, looking towards Sgurr na Lapaich. Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50 film

As I planned a trip for 2013, my mind considered various possible locations.

Scotland as a whole is my favourite place for landscape photography. It’s a big empty place (by UK standards) and yet if you randomly sampled images of Scotland on photo-sharing websites you might form the impression that Scotland consisted only of five square miles surrounding Buchaille Etive Mor.  As lovely as the Buchaille / Buckle / BEM is, I’d find it pretty hard to come up with a new interpretation of a mountain that has been so comprehensively photographed.

I considered returning to the Isle of Lewis, with the idea of staying for a week near Cradhlastadh / Crowlista on the west coast, and attempting to portray the bay and hills in some detail. I had photographed there for a few hours in 2012, but it’s a very isolated spot with little accommodation, and I knew I would need to return to a base for a week to get the most from the location. Whilst it’s fun to cover a wide area when first visiting a country or region, I am attracted to the idea of limiting myself to a smaller area and working hard to find images in thrs iat area. I may return to that plan in future, but decided instead to visit Glen Affric.

This was my first visit to Glen Affric, and I was pleased with my decision. It’s a really beautiful and quiet area. In the six days I stayed there, I never saw another photographer, and only a handful of walkers and cyclists (this was mid-November). I stayed at Glen Affric Holiday Park, and until the last night, I was the only guest !

Little tree, big trees. The River Affric; Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50

I was concerned that strong winds would blow the leaves off the trees before I got there, but in the end I need not have worried. Whilst the colours were reportedly at their peak the week before I arrived, there was still plenty of colour and an extra bonus was that there was snow on the hilltops, giving extra visual interest, but not on the roads, so I could get around.
2013-11-10, RZ67, Velvia 50, Back 3C, River Affric , 9

Glen Affric is certainly not undiscovered, but it’s much less well know to photographers than, say, Glencoe or Skye. A search on flickr showed that the most popular spot for photographs seemed to be a marked viewpoint not far from the last car park at the end of the road, looking west up Glen Affric …. so therefore I’m not going to show any of my own images from that viewpoint !

Mamiya RZ67 and Velvia 50

Mamiya RZ67 and Velvia 50

The village of Cannich, where I stayed, is close to two glens (valleys) – Glen Affric itself and Glen Cannich. My original plan was to walk and photograph in both of these glens, in Glen Strathfarrar a little further away, and possibly to visit Loch Ness to the east.

Riverside walk, River Affric, Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50

Riverside walk, River Affric, Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50

In the event, I found so much of interest to photograph in Glen Affric that I spent four full days photographing in Glen Affric, one day in Glen Cannich, never got to Glen Strathfarrar at all, and only saw Loch Ness (no monster !) on the way home. In the past I have sometimes travelled far and consumed much fuel only to end up somewhere that was, at best, just as good as my starting point – so staying put was a good thing.

Loch Affric reflections - Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia. I normally take less saturated images then this, but it did really look like that !

Loch Affric reflections – Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia. I normally take less saturated images then this, but it did really look like that !

As well as concentrating on a smaller area, I also took less photo equipment than I have sometimes been guilty of. In 2009 I took digital, 35mm, and medium format. On the 2010 Outer Hebrides trip, my cycle transport forced me to slim down to one 35mm camera with 50mm and 24mm lenses. Returning to  Lewis and Harris by car in 2012, I again took 35mm, digital, medium format, and even half-frame 35mm!

However I have found that taking too much kit is a problem. For example, if I take both film and digital images, then the digital images inevitably get viewed before the films are processed, which reduces the impact of seeing the film images when they are ready. The 35mm kit was very appropriate for the cycling trip, but when 35mm and medium format images are mixed together, I’m unlikely to be satisfied with the 35mm images.

This time, I decided to take just medium format film cameras. I still ended up with three of them:

  • Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm, 65mm, 110mm, and 250mm lenses. The 250mm got traded in during the week at Ffordes, which is only about 20 miles away, for a 180mm, as the 250mm was a little too long for my purposes. I never carried more than three lenses at once.
  • Yashicamat 124G twin lens reflex, for occasions when I would be walking further than I wanted to carry the Mamiya.
  • Holga WPC Pinhole, which takes images on 120 film in either 6*9 or 6*12 cm format. I only used one roll of Fuji Acros, i.e six 6*12 images

At the last minute, a 35mm camera did sneak in to the car … I was testing an Olympus Trip (paid £2 for it) which had a roll of Portra 400 loaded and I decided the holiday would be a good opportunity to finish the roll.

2011-11, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, Portra 160, 24_

Fasnakyle damn, Yashicamat 124G with Kodak Portra 160 film

For the past year or so, I’ve been using mostly Kodak Portra film, but when Fuji announced that Fuji Provia 400X was being discontinued, I got all nostalgic and ordered 5 rolls, which were packed alongside some Velvia 50 I had in the freezer. The slide film certainly provided images with a degree of impact which I wouldn’t have got from Portra alone. I also purchased some Tetenal E6 chemicals so that I could develop the slide films at home in a Jobo processor. If you have a Jobo to maintain the temperature and rotation, processing slide film isn’t any more difficult than processing colour negative, and I would say that I got better results from home-processed slide film than from home-processed Portra.

In theory, using the Mamiya RZ67 with it’s removable film backs and a choice of slide or negative films should provide flexibility to select the right film for the subject matter and lighting conditions. I reasoned that I would carefully spot-meter the scene and, if the dynamic range was within the range of slide film (no more than 5 stops) than I could choose slide film; if the dynamic range was wider, or I wanted a more subtle intepretation of the colours, then I could choose colour negative film, or black and white.

A small pool near the River Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160

A small pool near the River Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160

In the event, it didn’t quite work out like that, because (a) I probably wasn’t careful enough with my metering, and (b) there were some times when I only carried the Yashicamat, which doesn’t have a removable film back, so I was stuck with whatever film was loaded. I ended up with some slides that had shadows too deep, or the snow on the top of the mountains too bright. I even ended up with a couple of Portra images where the white top of a mountain is not easily distinguishable from a pale sky. Given the legendary wide dynamic range of Portra, I must have messed up those exposures quite badly.

There's a snow covered mountain in the distance which I didn't manage to distinguish well from the surrounding cloud.  Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160

There’s a snow covered mountain in the distance which I didn’t manage to distinguish well from the surrounding cloud.
Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160

All of the images on this page were taken on the first full day of photography in Glen Affric. I’ll leave you with one of my favourites from the trip, which was actually taken with the lens I later traded in …

Inverted reflections, Glen Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50 film

Inverted reflections, Glen Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50 film

Clyde Butcher on Youtube

I have a link to Clyde Butcher’s website in my “Favourite Photographers” section and I’ve just come across this interesting video on Youtube., where he talks about the practicalities of making images with an 8×10 large format camera whilst wading in a swamp containing alligators (the Everglades).

It seems a good time to post the link (ten days before Xmas) because, well, Clyde looks a lot like Santa Claus !

 

Studio still life


We’ve been having some really dreary weather in the UK recently, which has had the effect of encouraging me to make some studio still life images. For my last birthday, after suitable prompting, I received a studio backdrop system – basically some poles that make up a goalpost shape, adjustable in width and height, and two material backgrounds – one black and white.

Double-crossed Gerbera

Double-crossed Gerbera

It’s a fairly cheap set from China and I’m sure it wouldn’t last long at all if used in “professional” use. But the way I will use it is to leave it in place permanently in my spare bedroom / office / studio, and for still life use which doesn’t involve models walking on the material or potentially knocking over the support poles – I think it’s good enough for this purpose.

Prior to the purchase of the studio background, I had attempted to make do with dark cloth items draped over makeshift items such as a chair; but this restricted how wide and tall I could make the background and I was always having to keep the camera, subject, and background close together.

Using my new system, the backdrop can be something like 6 foot wide by 7 foot tall – which leaves absolutely loads of space around the edges of, say, a vase of flowers, to ensure that there is nothing but the backdrop showing up in the background.

The lighting for all of these shots was two anglepoise lamps, one was from B&Q costing about £5 and the other from Ikea costing about £14. The IKEA version has stronger controls on the position of the lamp, whereas the cheaper B&Q version sometimes needs the controls tightening so that the direction of the lamp is maintained.

In order to maintain the dark background, the subject and the lights should be as far away as possible from the backdrop, to minimise the amount of light falling on to the backdrop. In a small room at home, this can be difficult to achieve, and I may need to use the whole length of the room which means moving the pile of ironing out of the way ….

Even with angelpoise lamps which lack all of the directional modifiers that proper photo lights have – like barn doors or snoots – you can improvise with sheets of card, or even a magazine, to shape the light a little and further reduce the light falling on the background.

Nigella love-in-a-mist

Nigella love-in-a-mist

All of these shots were taken on a Mamiya RZ67, the mono images with Kodak TMax 100 film, developed in either Fotospeed FD10 or Rodinal (it doesn’t really matter which!) and the colour images with Kodak Portra 160, developed in the Roillei Digibase C41 kit.

With the Mamiya, my normal routine is to use a cable release and mirror lock-up. Pressing the main shutter button locks up the mirror, after which I have 60 seconds to use the cable release to fire the shutter. Once the mirror is up, I can then use one hand to hold a light modifier / cereal packet / magazine in between the light and the background, checking in the waist level viewfinder that the light modifier isn’t visible in the shot.

If I’m using two lights and need modifiers on both lights, I can make temporary modifications to the lamps by taping cardboard on one side as a cheapo “barn door”.

Gerbera

I find it a very meditative process to take my time adjusting the angle of the subject, camera, and lights, and trying to get it right before exposing a shot. In this way I’ve been able to get perhaps 6 useable images out of a roll (that’s ten 6*7cm images on the Mamiya).

Lilly

One advantage of using a continuous-lighting source, as opposed to flash, is that I can immediately see the result of moving the lights around – which is particularly an advantage for a film photographer as I don’t have the luxury of shooting then immediately observing the result, which a digital user has.

A single anglepoise was placed behind the lilly at 45 degrees, but kept out of sight, to backlight the flower

Our Garden

Another aspect which helps to get the shot “right first time” (well, most of the time) is using a spot meter. I now use a Sekonic 758 spot meter which allows me to measure a very small portion of the subject, then set the exposure according to whether I want that portion to be mid-grey, or up to two stop either side of mid-grey). My “keeper rate” has definitely improved after making the investment in the spot-meter.

2013-10-7, RZ67, Tmax100, Studio, FD10 1+9 in Jobo 6mins, 4

I’ve also changed the bulbs in the lamps. When purchased they had warm lights, with a colour temperature of about 3400k. I tracked down online some daylight-balanced bulbs, which have a colour temperature of 5600k. For colour film, this really helps to achieve a natural-looking colour-balance. It doesn’t really matter for black and white, and if Iwas shooting digital I could adjust the colour-balance in camera, or through processing the raw image.

My APX700

This little shell is only about an inch across

This little shell is only about an inch across

Gaura

2013-10, RZ67, Studio, Portra 160, Digibase, 2

The daylight bulbs, and the Kodak Portra 160 film, did a good job here in providing natural-looking colours

2013-10, RZ67, Studio, Portra 160, Digibase, 4

For the two shots above, I added a hessian sack over the black backdrop, which I saw on sale for 50p outside a house, while on a cycling trip.

Apart from the colour shots with the sack as a background, most of my still life images so far have been with black backgrounds. I’ve been able to get the backgrounds 90-95% as dark as I want them, with any further adjustment being made to the scanned images in Lightroom. I haven’t made many darkroom prints from these images yet, but the couple I did produced very deep blacks without needing extra burning-in.

2013-10, RZ67, Studio, Portra 160, Digibase, 1

I have found that using a white background, and keeping it white, is much more difficult with the equipment I have. In this case, instead of keeping the background as far away as possible from the lights and the subject, I need either to keep the subject close to the background, or employ additional lights aimed at the backdrop. This is something I need to do more work on – roll on more bad weather !

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