Once again we find ourselves at a New Year on the horizon. With the end of 2011, we look back on all the events that took place. In this rapidly changing world, where technology seems to advance faster than you can purchase it and conflicts seem like everyday news, it’s necessary to take a moments pause to remember how we got here. When it comes to photography, each passing year offers its own challenges, opportunities, and learning experiences. Photography is an evolving medium, even though it has been around for decades. Aside from the every changing technology where in two months an upgrade to the brand new camera you just bought is released, photography as an art form is ever changing. Like fashion, what makes a ‘good photography’ seems to change every year. It’s because of this that each year brings new forms of photography and new subjects. A photographer who doesn’t evolve with the world and branch out with new ideas will be stuck in their current position and find themselves left behind quickly.
Looking back at 2011 through my hard drives and piles of DVDs worth of photography, I realized that I somehow managed to branch out, and take less photos this year. Aside from some major events that really stood out above all others, I found I shot less photos and was present at less events. Airshows were on the decline this year, with a lot of shows opting for the new style of only happening every other year, in stark contrast to the large abundance of shows I attended last year. This year focused primarily on Aviation and Pinup photography throughout the year, and less on Disneyland and Comic Con/Convention photography. As with 2010, I decided to put together a ‘best of 2011’ list chronicling the best events to happen and be photographed during this year, which seemed to pass by as fast as a Compact Flash card can be filled with a camera that shoots 10 frames a second. There were some pretty epic events this year, which make up a bit for the otherwise slow year in photography. So without further ado, here’s the pictorial list of the best photos and events of 2011. Let’s get started!
Tiger Cruise Air Wing Launch
Standing out above all other events this year was one in particular, one that very few get to do. I was incredibly fortunate enough to be invited to join the United States Navy on what’s called a Tiger Cruise aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Aircraft Carrier. Taking a one-way trip to Oahu, Hawaii I boarded the USS Abraham Lincoln and spent nearly 7 days living on board as we sailed from Oahu to Naval Station North Island in San Diego, California. The journey was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, one I’ll remember forever. Eating, sleeping, and taking photos of the life of the giant floating city that is the Lincoln was quite amazing to behold. And while this entire top 15 moments could JUST be about the Lincoln’s experiences, I decided to narrow it down to one specific event on the Tiger Cruise during the trip: The Carrier Air Wing flyoff. On the sixth day of the journey, before we reached San Diego, it’s customary for every aircraft on board the Carrier to be launched off so they can head to their home bases (which in this case for most of the aircraft was NAS Lemoore, CA). The reason for this is simple, the Carrier has to be speeding along at over 35 knots to launch the aircraft (the wind and speed help the aircraft with the incredible amount of aerodynamic lift needed to be catapulted off the deck). So when the Carrier is in port, there’s no wind to help the aircraft and as such they’d be stuck on the Carrier until it goes out to sea again. So, on this 6th day the entire Air Wing on board the Carrier was launched off. Several full squadrons of older F/A-18C Hornets and several newer F/A-18E/F Super Hornet squadrons along with one EA-6B Prowler, E-2C Hawkeye, and C-2A Greyhound squadrons also were launched. I was fortunate enough to get the ‘best seat in the house’ to photograph the entire launch that lasted several hours. Getting to the spot very early in the morning, before most of the deck crew were even prepping the aircraft, I had one of the most amazing view from up on the ‘island’ of the Carrier watching the sun rise over the deck of packed Hornets. After prepping the aircraft, one by one they were launched off the deck in a strategic manner and with amazing precision. No matter what other aviation opportunities come my way in the future, this one day will always remain one of my all time favorites.
You can see more about each day of the Tiger Cruise with stories and photos:
Centennial of Naval Aviation Celebration
2011 marked the 100th year of Naval Aviation in the United States Military. For this huge milestone, a year long special ‘celebration’ was thought up for all airshows and aviation events throughout the year that featured Naval Aviation. On top of that, a large assortment of various Naval and Marine aircraft that were already scheduled to get new paint jobs were painted up in retro colors for the celebration. Retro colors being paint jobs of aircraft from different squadrons all throughout history. Modern F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets painted up in the paint schemes of World War 2 warbirds. Several dozen of these ‘CONA Birds’ (as they were called) were carefully researched and painted for these celebration, and sent out to attend airshows all over the United States. To start the Celebration, it was decided to have a very special kick off ceremony and airshow at the birthplace of Naval Aviation, Naval Station North Island on Coronado Island, San Diego, California. This one day celebration was incredible due to one major fact, the NAS North Island base has not held a public opening for an incredibly long time. Hundreds of photographers, media reporters, and pretty much anyone who could spread the word were invited out to NAS North Island the day before the big show (which took place February 12, 2011) for a ‘media preview’. This was an incredible day of no crowds and just aircraft. The media was able to view all the aircraft, take photos, interview pilots, etc with little to no people in their shots… a DREAM for any photographer! We were able to witness the arrivals of all the special CONA Birds and preview of what the next day’s show would be like. The Airshow itself drew in thousands upon thousands of people from all over the state coming out to see this rare show. On top of all the aircraft on display, a US Navy Destroyer, US Marine Amphibious Attack Carrier, and a full Aircraft Carrier were docked at the base for the public to come aboard and tour. Amazing as that was, above everything else the one event that stood out for this kick off party was the ‘Parade of Flight’ that took place later in the day. Starting with early pre-WW2 biplanes, just about every single type of Naval and Marine aircraft through history paraded by in a massive hour long flyby. After a flyby by the USN Blue Angels to lead the parade, every aircraft following the biplanes took you a step closer to modern day. World War 2, the dawn of jets, massive electronic warfare aircraft, and finally to modern rotor and fixed wing aircraft filled the skies. It was an impressive sight to see. Finally, the last flyover was the entire air wing of the USS John C Stennis Aircraft Carrier, basically every aircraft that lives aboard the Carrier in a formation that stretched several miles. An incredible day for all who showed up to celebrate 100 great years of aviation!
For a more comprehensive review of the show and full photo gallery, head on over to:
Retiring the Sea Knight
Yes yes, another airplane entry! With each passing year, it seems, another military aircraft is retired in favor of newer models or totally new aircraft all together. With many aircraft in the US Military dating back to the Vietnam era, these aircraft have long outlasted their ‘service life’ and in many cases have soared beyond them with the addition of upgrades and refitting of the aircraft. This year, the casualty is a old friend for many Marines out there who have served over the years. The Boeing Ch-46E Sea Knight is a familiar sight to anyone in Southern California with several bases housing squadrons of the Sea Knights. One such base, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California used to have about 5 squadrons of CH-46s, but as the Sea Knights have reached the end of their service lift, a new aircraft that has been loaded with many troubles (that are finally now fixed) has come in to take the Sea Knight’s place. Passing the torch, the Bell MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft will be taking on the load of the CH-46s, with many advancements and better capabilities over the CH-46. As cool and interesting as the Osprey is, I will miss the CH-46 Sea Knights buzzing around the Orange County skies. The distinct sound from their twin blades is unmistakable and their shape unlike any other aircraft (minus the Chinook, the Army’s much larger Sea Knight cousin). At the 2011 MCAS Miramar Airshow this year, the final Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) demonstration to include CH-46s was put on all three days. For photographers at the show, it was one of the final times to snap away at the CH-46s before their complete retirement, which at MCAS Miramar has come and gone now. Two MV-22 Ospreys from newly converted squadrons took part in the MAGTF demo as well alongside the Sea Knights, as if to be a final transition of the torch from an old bird to a new one.
For more photos of the 2011 MCAS Miramar Airshow, click here:
Satin Dollz Tiki Shoot
Making the list a second year in a row, the lovely and charming Satin Dollz pinup dancers made the top five with a photoshoot done in September at an incredible Hawaiian and Tiki themed house in Camarillo, California. When I got the call that we were going to be shooting at this ‘incredible house that’s tiki themed everywhere,’ I didn’t realize that would be an understatement. This beautiful house, tucked in a normal neighborhood has an enormous backyard with not only a Koi pond, several waterfalls, hidden shipwrecked boats, giant tiki idols, and countless other gems and perfectly picked and placed plants; but it also has a complete ‘tiki cabana’ shack and bar that is incredibly furnished with themed items in every nook and cranny. Even the restroom in this little shack has water facet knobs made from a shrunken head and beautiful seashells. I don’t think a pinup photographer could ask for a more amazing and perfect place to shoot! With nearly endless locations in this yard to do photos, we spent the day shooting all the Satin Dollz together and individually. It was a pretty incredible and fun shoot, with themed music to boot! The house has been featured in many magazines, and it’s easy to see why! It’s a photographer’s dream setting!
C-47 Air to Air
When the word came out about another C-47 day at the Lyon Air Museum at John Wayne Airport (SNA) on December 10, 2011; I thought to myself, this is a perfect time for an air-to-air shoot! Up until then, the largest aircraft I’d done an air to air shoot with was P-38s and a F/A-18 Super Hornet. I’ve always wanted to do more air to air work with larger transport and bomber aircraft, especially from World War 2. A lot of logistics are involved with air to air photo shoots: planning, scheduling, safety, and the biggest thing of them all being fuel. Unfortunately, these planes don’t use rubber bands or helium to fly, they use a specific type of aircraft fuel. Warbirds, especially, guzzle up fuel like there’s no tomorrow which is something most people don’t think about when they head out to an airshow. For example, the T-6 Texan WW2 trainer eats roughly about 30 gallons an hour of fuel. Break that down and you get a gallon every two minutes of flight. Imagine if your car guzzled that much? Most cars have roughly 11 gallon tanks, and if you travel 60 miles per hour on the freeway, doing all the math you would basically get about 22 miles in 22 minutes before you run out of gas. For an air-to-air shoot, there’s the challenge of paying for not just the subject plane’s gas, but also the photo plane’s gas. It adds up real fast! So why mention all this? Well for this shoot, I opted for a T-6G Texan/Harvard II trainer from WW2, flying out of Fullerton Airport and meeting up with a beautiful Douglas C-47B Skytrain and a smaller but fun Cessna O-1E Bird Dog over the El Toro area for the shoot. Thanks for the wonderful pilot of the Texan, Daniel, we were able to keep the gas guzzling rate of the Texan down to a minimum for the flight and still have a lot of fun and a wonderful fun flight. This flight marked a few ‘firsts’ for me, 1) being it was the first time I’d paid for the fuel for an air-to-air flight of the photo plane, 2) first time I’d shot with the canopy open while in flight from the back seat of the Texan, and 3) of course the first ‘large’ aircraft I’d shot. The shoot went off very well despite a lot of shooting issues with a very hazy day!
For more photos of the Air to Air shoot with the C-47B Skytrain and O-1E Bird Dog, click here:
Petty Project: Indian
Last year, I started the very successful Petty Project (website) where I set out to recreate all of the famed pinup artist of the 40s and 50s George Petty’s artworks. Considering him as the pinnacle of pinup artwork, it was my way of honoring his wonderful work and have a lot of fun doing it. These recreations are a mix of photography, clothing/prop ingenuity, and heavily photoshop. Like piecing together pieces of a puzzle, these complex recreations take hours to do both in studio and in photoshop. It’s a very slow project, as it takes so long to do the post work in photoshop. So while only two dozen or so have been completed, I’ve shot in the studio over 40 of them. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing model, Tiffinie, who not only did a wonderful job as a ‘Petty Girl’ but also was invaluable in the fact that she HAND MADE the outfits for the shots she was to recreate. A lot of work on her and her mother, both of who are very talented seamstresses, to get all these outfits made from just a single picture (and some of them not very high res) as best as they could. The result was beyond anything I could imagine making my post work in photoshop a hundred times easier. One of these recreations with Tiffinie was the always popular Indian. Hand making the outfit down to the shoes, we spent quite some time in the studio shooting this one to make sure we got it right, and it presented several issues we had to work through. But in the end, after post work in photoshop piecing all the pieces together, the final result is one of the best recreations so far in the project. You can view the original Petty Indian artwork HERE and view the Petty Project website located here.
Helicopters at Dusk
From the ashes of a once powerful United States Marine base on the west coast, the airshow event held on the former MCAS El Toro lands, now called the Great Park of Irvine, has grown with each year into an airshow to not miss. While it’s still an infant compared to the world class airshows that were held on the former base, the city of Irvine and the hundreds of volunteers for the upcoming aviation museum at the park have pulled together an impressive assortment of aircraft on display and in the sky. In 2011, the US Marines decided to be heavily represented at the show, sending out two CH-46 Sea Knights (one of which was actually stationed at MCAS El Toro), and two of their newest helicopters: the Bell AH-1z Viper (an upgrade from the AH-1W Super Cobra) and a Bell UH-1Y Venom (an upgrade from the UH-1N Huey). Having all this military presence at the former base made a big hit with the crowds that visited, with people surrounding the aircraft all day long. It wasn’t until the light began to fade, however, when the real opportunity came up. Both the Viper and Venom were scheduled to depart at dusk and head back to their home base at Camp Pendlton. Thanks to the help of Frank, I was able to be front row center beyond the crowd lines for an incredible opportunity to catch these two powerful birds as they departed. With the light JUST perfect, they made for some incredible shots and my favorite helicopter shots of the year!
For more photos of the MCAS El Toro / Great Park of Irvine photos, click here:
For the first time in may years since the Planes of Fame Air Museum Airshow was moved to it’s current May dates, rain threatened to fall. The few days before the two-day airshow as the prep work began to transform the Chino Airport into this world famous airshow, the sun was bright and hot. But the clouds began to roll in on Saturday morning and rain seemed on the horizon. While Saturday went without any water droplets, the Sunday morning was a different story. Rain started to fall in the early morning off and on, sometimes heavily. Thankfully, by the time of the first act the rain had stopped, and didn’t return the rest of the day. By the end of the airshow, the rain clouds were all but non-existent. Rewinding back to that morning, while it did scare off many people from coming early, those who did show up early and waited under whatever shelter they could find were treated to a photographer’s delight… that is wet grounds and contrasty skies. Reflections began to appear on every surface, and the normally ‘usual’ photos turned into works of art. As I was walking down the hot ramp flight line making well use of this liquid enhancement to my shots, I stopped in front of this Vought FG-1D Corair. With the most amount of water in front of this Corsair compared to any other aircraft, I knelt down on one wet knee and shot a few shots with the rather dramatic clouds that were taking the rain elsewhere. The resulting photo was pretty awesome, but for once I decided to play around with the photo. I don’t normally add filters to my shots, but this one seemed to be asking for some post-work. After adding a special filter to the image in photoshop, I was left with this incredible contrasted image which made the photo almost like an incredibly different shot! Prints of this photo will be available soon for purchase on http://www.warbird-photos.com
Man the Guns!
I’ve always been a big fan of the World War 2 propaganda posters. From every different branch to the Victory Gardens at home, they style of these posters was to cause someone to feel a personal attachment and do their part for the great war. World War 2 Military has also always been a huge part of my 1940s Pinup photography, just about every model I’ve ever shot with has done at least one thing military related during the shoot. In the past few years I’ve practiced, refined, and continued to refine turning these WW2 themed pinups into looking like they actually are over 65 years old. I’ve toyed with the idea of taking some of these pinups, and as with my Coca Cola advertisement recreations, create a on-going series of WW2 propaganda posters featuring the pinup models. Carefully researching everything from the fonts, art style, wording, symbols, and even the colors I went about to get started on this project. In probably the most recent shot photos of this entire top 15 list, the start of this WW2 poster project began with Kayla. Kayla is one of my favorite models to work with, and one of the best pinups I’ve had the honor to photograph. It was only natural I’d start some of these posters with her, since her first shoot’s military pinups were some of my favorites. The first image I used was an Army Air Force pinup shot which I made into a recruiting poster. As well as that one came out, I think it was my second one for the US Navy (pictured left) that has come out best of the group so far. Wearing an authentic WW2 jumper, headphones, late war B-5 Life Vest, and Dixie cap, she’s holding a real M1 rifle, the ‘standard rifle’ of World War 2. With many more shoots lined up in the future with models, I can’t wait to shoot and create more of these posters, and eventually offer them for sale as large poster prints. You can see more pinup photography at the Dietz Dolls website: http://www.dietzdolls.com
Nellis AFB Airshow
For those on the west coast, the end of the airshow season each year is always marked with the Nellis Air Force Base airshow in Las Vegas, Nevada. The homebase of the USAF Thunderbirds and fighter command, Nellis AFB is host to many different F-15, F-16, A-10, and F-22 squadrons. Nellis always likes to end the show season with a big bang, usually with lots of demonstrations by top military aircraft and a very packed day of flying. This year was no different, with demos by all sorts of aircraft including mock dogfights with fighter jets. The highlight this year was the static display of a B-2 Stealth Bomber, a very rare sight on the west coast. On the Sunday day of the airshow, another B-2 came in and made several passes, but the real treat was seeing one up close. With armed Military Police keeping a watchful eye the entire time of the airshow around the B-2, people could get close enough to see all the little details that still make up this very secretive aircraft. Also being hte last show of the season, it makes the last show for the USAF Thunderbirds; that along with the fact that it’s their home base makes their performance one of the best of the season. A few photos stand out from this show, two Thunderbird shots and two B-2 Stealth Bomber shots. The first being the photo above of the Thunderbirds that I just happened to catch as they crossed the sun. It’s one of those photos you don’t think would be anything but trashable, and when you see it on the computer you realize it’s actually a good image! Another shot (see gallery below) is of the solo Thunderbirds (#5 and #6) in an inverted formation pass, they were very tight this year for this pass. It’s difficult to get an exact shot as they perfectly line up, but when you do, it’s a really awesome keeper. Finally, there were two shots of the B-2 Stealth Bomber that were shot in HDRI (High Dynamic Range Image) with three images overlayed to get a really incredible range of colors and exposure. One was in the early morning with almost no one around (VERY rare for a B-2) and the other at sunset. Overall a really great show this year!
For more photos of the Nellis AFB Airshow 2011 photos, click here:
I’ve always wanted to do a photoshoot with a model at the beach, especially a super model. Who wouldn’t? The beach offers an incredible assortment of different types of photo styles and themes for photography. In particular I wanted to try out the classic super model style images with the gal on the beach in the sand as the water rushes around her. Then I wanted to try some of the more artistic contrasty black and white style shots. I was fortunate enough to finally have the chance to do this with a model, Crystal, during this summer. Going to a more secluded area of a beach, we had no people in the background of our shots and spent the day having a fun time taking photos. At the time, my flash was broken so I was relying on natural light for the entire shoot. Later on in the day, as we were taking a break after she had gone into the water, I noticed the sun hitting her face just right and her wet hair gently blowing in the breeze. I took a bunch of shots of her in different positions, and the resulting photos came out better than I could have imagined! An incredibly beautiful swimsuit model aside with the perfect conditions, the black and white contrast really made these photos pop like they do. Very happy with the photos and can’t wait to get out there and shoot more next summer!
Every year in San Pedro, California, the Fort MacArthur museum hosts the Los Angeles Air Raid of 1942 reenactment dance at the old battery installations. The event marks the anniversary of the famed air raid accident that happened in 1942 when numerous coastal battery defenses opened fire on what they thought were invading Japanese aircraft just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Air Raid event is a World War 2 USO style dance with live swing music, numerous WW2 vehicles and artifacts on display, and just about everyone dressing up in their WW2/1940s best. This event provides some incredible photos each year that make this event a must attend for any reenactor photographer. I’ve been shooting the event for several years now, and as with 2010 Air Raid photos have made my top 15 list. I expect this coming year’s Air Raid will have a photo that makes it into the 2012 top 15 list. At any rate, this year I knew right when the sun would be setting, so I made sure to use that time frame window as much as I could. A US Navy shore patrol reenactor was walking up on top of the battery bunker ‘patrolling’ the area when I capture this salute. The colors are not messed with in photoshop, the camera capture it just as it was. With clouds and patches of clear sky, the always colorful San Pedro sunset turned into a very erratically colored sky as the sun set behind the Pacific ocean. Definitely one of my favorite reenactor photos of all time!
Sea Stallion Studio
This photo was shot at about 11pm at night, in near pitch blackness aside from the distant hangar lights, with only two hand held Canon 580 Ex II speedlites. So, how did I get all this weird studio style lighting effects on this US Marine Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion at Gillespie Field? Well, by painting the light with a long 30 second exposure. Huh? Basically, in order to illuminate the CH-53 with light, I had to paint the light on it by rapidly walking around the CH-53 firing the Speedlite flashes BY HAND as I walked around it. The long exposure made my body disappear since I was making sure to move and not stop, plus I fired the flash away from the camera and directly at the Super Stallion, so you don’t get any bright lens flares. It’s a very tough and tricky thing to do, especially to get the light looking uniform on the CH-53. If you look on the ground below the CH-53, you can see the rings of light where I stood and flashed the light on it. I hope next year to attempt the same thing, but with even more flashes to get even more of a studio effect at night!
I’m not usually one to post cat photos, I leave that to the ICanHasCheezburger website, but this year I decided to have a little fun with my cat named Chance. He’s not normally accustomed to having any articles of clothing on them, so I knew going into this little shoot during Christmas Time that any photos I could get of him would be nearly milliseconds of opportunity until he would attempt to remove the clothing items and walk away. Taking a few little caps and scarves meant for stuffed snowmen and dogs, I bribed Chance with some cat treats and fired away, often only getting one shot out of the a set of 10 in focus and sharp because of his erratic movements. The resulting shots, however, were an instant classic with a very Christmas feel. I really low how they came out with the Canon 50mm lens. Pet photography certainly isn’t an avenue I’d ever get into, but I can forsee more photoshoots of Chance in the future… that is if he allows it!
When I’m shooting at Comic Con, I tend to avoid shooting celebrities unless they personally interest me or someone asked me to take a picture. Normally I have my hands full shooting Sexy Princesses, Stormtroopers, or whatever else might be walking around. There’s one seminar panel at Comic Con that I try and catch each year, which is the panel for the TV show CHUCK. It’s my favorite show on TV, and the panels are certainly a lot of fun with a lot of humor and jokes. The entire cast will show up for the panel and answer questions from fans as well as discussing the upcoming show seasons. This year, though, was the last CHUCK panel as the show is ending it’s 5 season run in a few months. That made this panel even more special to be at, and a lot of tears were shed between the cast as they discussed the end. Right after the panel, the stars headed down to the Warner Brothers booth to do a special autograph session. It was impossible to do both the panel AND the autograph session unless you had some really good friends who would stand in line for you, so I felt fortunate enough to at least be there for that (and get a cool CHUCK T-shirt). While I wasn’t able to get a ticket for the autograph session, I decided to test my luck and at least head down there to maybe get some snap shots of the stars and see them closer than up on a stage. Heading down to the already packed Warner Brother’s booth, I found myself trying to be tricky in where I was standing so I’d get a great vantage point of the stars as they arrived and not be blocking any isle ways, which security was clearing every few seconds in preparation for the massive crowds that would show up when the cast arrived. Waiting around for a little while paid off, I had a front row seat as the cast arrived. Unfortunately, that front row seat vanished quickly as hundreds of fans who were also there to see the stars and steal a photo of them pushed in and packed the area like sardines. And by sardines I mean if you were to take an already packed container of sardines and then pack 5 times MORE sardines in that same container. It was a mad house as security found themselves in a very dangerous situation of fans in massive numbers pushing together and not moving. It was chaotic to say the least, and many people did not heed the loud screaming of security for the people to take their photo and leave. The one photo I wanted, the big group shot they paused to take, was not quite where I thought it would be, and some person in front of me decided to hold up a video camera right in front of my camera, so the above photo was the best I could get. I was lucky enough, however by following the directions of the security and being polite, to get a front spot to snap a few shots before I left the area in search of spots with no other human beings to take a moment’s breath. Even with the chaos, I got some great shots of the cast as I went past and even got the attention of a few of them! It’s certainly not the best photography, but it’s special to me and makes the top 15 list because it’s the only photos I will get of the cast together before the show ends.
So there you have it, the best of 2011! I sincerely hope for as many and many many more opportunities to happen this coming 2012 year! From aviation to pinups, conventions to reenactments, and everything in between I look forward to the photography challenges and successes that each year bring! You never know what opportunities will come your way, sometimes when you don’t even realize it. So make sure you always have a camera ready to capture those amazing but fleeting moments in life!
Here’s to a wonderful New Year to all of you! I didn’t quite follow last year’s resolution to update this blog more (in fact this is the first post in just over a YEAR! OOPS!). But hopefully this year will being about some more time to update things like this… or perhaps it’s a good thing I’m busy with taking photos! Either way…
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!
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