Gerry Spence & the Art of Advocacy
Professor James R. Elkins College of Law | West Virginia University
Photography & the Art of Seeing
Gerry Spence says, "I've painted, written poetry, and become a professional photographer because these art forms are roads to secret places in the self that cannot otherwise be visited." [Gerry Spence, Win Your Case 9-18 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005)]
"Leftovers": A Photo Essay by Gerry Spence || Sullivan Goss Gallery (Santa Barbara, California)
How to Think About Photography
Musings1: Photography is a way of seeing and knowing the world. But, seeing and knowing the world how? How then would you try to relate this way (or ways) of seeing and knowing to the work of the lawyer? [The Art of Seeing–a photography course]
Musings2:"Getting people to be themselves in front of a camera rather than stiffly posing is an art all to itself." [Dale Cotton, The Art of Seeing Art: A Return to Reality] In presenting evidence, and telling stories (by way of voir dire, opening statement, examination and cross-examination of witnesses, closing statement), don't lawyers in the courtroom try to establish a fixed, framed image (of the plaintiff, the defendant, the victim, the situation), a photographic composition that will freeze the fluidity, the confusion, and the chaos, so that a legal decision can be rendered?
Musings3: In what sense is a trial, like a photograph, a "composition"? [Composition (Visual Arts)–Wikipedia][Perspective (Visual)–Wikipedia] [Perspective (cognitive)–Wikipedia][Point of view (Literature)–Wikipedia]
Musings4: "In the artist's recreation of the world we are enabled to see the world." [John Gardner, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers 49 (New York: Vintage Books, 1985)(1983)]
"Daily notes and photographs are the records that remain from a life lived as the days went by. . . . [T]he artifacts document a time, a place, and a way of life. But more important than the record that remains is the realization that the keeping of a journal, and the making of an image now and then, fills life with awareness and wonder." [ix]
"My camera, as usual of late, is near at hand. . . . A record can be made of things that actually exist, or ever existed, irrespective of their essence or meaning. The photograph is a document of existence. It is an artifact, as well, of my own existence. I was there, and I too existed. A reminder that everything, ultimately, is the stuff–the suchness–of pure existence, of the unfathomable and mysterious universe. Beyond form, beyond appearance, beyond this life, is what we uneasily call Nothing–bare existence." 
"This summer I have thought much about photography. And I have spent many days out photographing. My aims are quite simple, although various treatises on the photographic art inform me. I photograph primarily as another way of recording everyday life: To document our existence, what is, here and now. There is deliberation in the process. In fact, it is deliberation that makes photography 'art.' Photography is an art the same way the living of everyday life is an art, where life is created each day with attention, with love, with deliberation. I think of Thoreau, observing that I photograph as he went to the woods, 'to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.' Everyday life, including the taking of pictures, is an art when carried out deliberately.
. . . . My photographs . . . reflect my sense of order, my sense of the structuring of nature, my autobiography.
All photographs, whether of the prairie landscape or the streets in town, are of nature. And when I photograph, all the nature of human evolution, as homo sapiens ('the wise human being'), comes together, My mind, my soul, my being, all coalesce when I go photographing, when the nonverbal image is framed in the viewfinder and the shutter is pressed. It is then that I know my true self. There is a moment of great relief.
The resulting photography, viewed much later, gives witness to the alchemy of the photographic moment. It attests to the experiencing of existence, that life has been lived with deliberation, at least for the moment. And that moment is eternity." [26-27][These passages are also found in Richard Quinney, For the Time Being: Ethnography of Everyday Life 49-50 (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1998)]
"The simplest of snapshots, Wright Morris reminds us, involves us in time's ineffable mystery. The photograph is at once commonplace and unearthly." [Richard Quinney, For the Time Being: Ethnography of Everyday Life, at p. 60]
"I photograph on a July day, and I study the negative this September day to be reminded of the play of time, of the timeless, and of the eternal present. When I am in the present moment, without past or future, when I snap the shutter of the camera, I am in eternity. And when I look at the negative today, concentrating in the moment, eternity is with me again. It–eternity–is available to us every moment of the day." [41-42][Richard Quinney, For the Time Being: Ethnography of Everyday Life, at pp. 60-61]
"Of late, my practice is relatively simple. I travel daily the roads and byways in and around this prairie town. Often I photography something that attracts my attention. At home, sitting at my desk, I write a few words for the day. A meditation. These few things make a life. Eventually, I know, not ever the need for these." 
"These days of spring I wander the roads of DeKalb County. A windmill beside a creek once pumped water for livestock. I stop, gather up my camera and tripod, and walk into the field. Redwing blackbirds flutter and call from top the aged wheel of the windmill. The sky is clear and with a cloud." 
"I become what I see, and I see what I become." 
"On a June morning, I drive up Annie Glidden Road to photograph the tree I have been watching all winter and spring. The field now is planted in corn. A landscape pleasant to the eye." 
"How are we to make ourselves ready for the experience of the sublime? The meditative act of photographing is now my daily spiritual practice. And some reflection in the word. The disjunction between subject and object is overcome. Earth and sky are joined. I become one with nature.
Experiencing the sublime in everyday life–with elevated consciousness–is in the long tradition of romantic poets, transcendental writers, landscape painters, and all who would be close to the truth of existence. The act of creating expands the spirit of the artist. The profane is overcome and the sacred is realized.
The spiritual eye of the photographer beholds a landscape. Clouds following the rain form above the grain elevator. At the intersection of Highway 64 and Five Points Road–along the abandoned tracks of the Great Western Railroad–a photography is made." 
"The tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad cross Cherry Valley Road to the east of Irene. I pause to photograph the lines on one of my aimless travels. There is neither coming nor going. No longing for what is not. I am that which is at the end of the line. For the moment, I am at home." 
"On a Friday afternoon, I wander the country roads. I have been thinking about photographing a shed on the rise of a hill off Derby Line Road. The building, with a few surrounding trees, is all that remains of an abandoned farmstead. I had imagined a clear day with billowing clouds and a sharp afternoon light. Instead, on this humid day, vapor trails from jet airplanes cross the hazy sky. Without choice, the photographer takes what is given. Letting things go their own way." 
"On Annie Glidden Road, I stop and photograph the homesteader's cemetery, known locally as the Vandeburg Cemetery. One-half acre of falling and fading tombstones, burials from the 1850s. A single evergreen tree stands in the mist–an ancient symbol of the everlasting life. Again, nature prevails; and I know once more, in solitude, my true being." 
"Still the blueness of morning light. I have returned to the snowy fields along Five Points Road. Frost-covered trees line an unnamed gravel road. Last fall's dried weeds sprout from snow banks. Farm animals stand in the cold, backs to the warming eastern sky. A few crows fly over a distant woods. Little things." [88-89]
"The way the winter sun casts a light on the newly fallen snow, and across the gravestones, and through the branches of the evergreens. In the light of things we know the world." 
"An arrangement in the cemetery pleases the eye. I make a photograph. Evergreens in alignment and stones and crosses on the top of a hill. A farm and land for tilling on the other side.
Order out of chaos; a geometry of the sublime. All this on the basis of where we stand. I pause, someplace in the universe, and behold. A companion of the stars." 
"We come to know the world–no matter how limited that world may be–fragment by fragment. We do not grasp reality fully and completely." 
"With the new snowfall, followed by the sun, I will drive my car and gather fragments on film. Through the viewfinder of the camera, I will see again, awakening to the winter fields and the trees and the fence lines." [112-113]
"I think of myself as a witness to the times. My witnessing is in my writing and in my photographing." [Richard Quinney, Borderland: A Midwest Journal 58 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001)]
". . . I photograph, and in the seeing sense that even in this mortal guise I am alive. As long as I have the desire to see–to compose in a viewfinder or through a lens–I am alive. I do not know what my life would be if this passion should fail. . . . The photograph is finally an illusion, my attempt to stop time, to fill the void, to preserve the moment to be alive." [119, 120]
"What is obscured in the summer heat is revealed to me in the black-and-white architecture of the winter landscape. As the sun shines on trees and branches and the snow glistens, I make my way with camera and tripod, looking from under my fur hat for just the right angle and the best light for the making of a photograph. I know abundance in the sparseness of winter. [161-162]
"Even indoors, this season I have the need to photograph, to still perhaps the pace of time, or to frame a composition that has the look of reality.
This is the time for my 'still life' work. Of course, I think of all of my photographs as still lifes. Whether I arrange the moment, the photograph is a composition constructed by me in the viewfinder of the camera. The result is a still life preserved on the film, an image of what once was but is no longer." [Richard Quinney, Borderland: A Midwest Journal 117 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001)]
"The ordinary things of daily life are enhanced and elevated–and given meaning–in the still life. In the everyday world of routine and repetition, we know our salvation." [Richard Quinney, Borderland: A Midwest Journal 117 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001)]
"A photograph now and then, a few notes from the field, and a life passing with some intention each day." 
"Each day I travel in some way–by car or on foot–the roads and byways of this country in northern Illinois. This is the landscape to which I returned after years of traveling in other places. It is a landscape of transcendent quality, having to do with the line of the horizon, the way the sky meets the land, the drift of the clouds over the fields and towns, the way the sun is reflected on the weathered barn.
Photographing the landscape, I have discovered the importance of watching all things as they rise and pass away, of seeing things as they really are. Experiencing the landscape in silence, with bare attention, I become aware of the absolute wholeness of the world, of the reality beyond words. Everything of which I am part is immeasurable and mysterious." [Richard Quinney, Borderland: A Midwest Journal 162 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001)]
"In the morning–this morning of a rising sun in a clear sky–one person in town gets out of bed and goes to the room that is his study. He opens the closet and removes the camera. Film is placed into the magazine and a yellow filter is fitted over the lens. Give the morning some more time. Then walk downtown to begin the day's work. Although he does not yet know it, there will come a time when he will question this life of being a spectator, of being a detached observer in the quest for knowledge. But on this day . . . he will go to Sullivan's tavern to photograph through the large window the trains as they pass through this prairie town." 
"In the Western world, we dwell in Plato's cave, between the fire and the wall, watching the shadows dance. But always the yearning for a clearer vision of the thing itself." 
"Like the knight in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, whether by chance or fate or accident, I drew the shortest cut, and I have told the tales that I had sworn to tell. We are pilgrims on a journey, traveling through the middle border of a vast continent. We tell stories to each other along the way, find solace in our common travel. We wish to live our lives with deliberation, giving attention to the wonders of our everyday existence. We know that our farthest travel is to the place where we started." [ix]
"I watch the sun rise high in the sky. White cumulus clouds float over the prairie as I drive out of town. This is a good day to be photographing. What I am looking for is not yet clear. A discovery of some kind, a way of making some sense of this wandering, this journey. . . . Maybe I will be able to see anew." 
"Of late I have taken to looking at what is very near in any search for the ultimate. Whether I believe in God is no longer the pressing issue. How could I, how could we, ever know enough to believe in God? Belief is not the issue. How to live daily with a faith in a meaningful existence is the contemporary concern. We are seekers in a world where traditional answers are no longer convincing. We are travelers who aspire to reach beyond the material rationalism of the modern age. The sights and sounds along the country road have a double meaning. They suggest that we are indeed in the world but not of it. Through the camera's viewfinder I have a second look." [62-63]
"The camera becomes the mind's eye as I travel in the country. With camera in hand, I see what otherwise remains hidden. Mysteries are revealed when I am ready to look, and the camera prompts me to be awake to the unfolding." 
"My travel on country roads has become an exploration into the human condition, of my being in the world but not of it. This is both a curse and a salvation. In the Eastern sense, this is the challenge. I am the warrior with a camera traveling a road that stretches into the universe. the stars soon will shine as night falls over the prairie." 
"The driveway of each farm leads back into an ordered world consisting of a house, a barn, some sheds, a granary and corncrib, and a silo. The way is lined by trees planted years ago. I stop the car and photograph the farmyard.
The house, with its surrounding yard and farm buildings, is an intimate and sacred world. This inhabited space is in essence a home. A family lives in the world as it dwells in the house and its immediate surroundings. It has taken years to create a place for souls to dwell. Each farmyard is a unique landscape made first in the selection of the site and then in the building and the planting over the years; it is a habitat for human life. For all those born on the homestead, this will be the most significant place of their lives. Where we are born is a reference for all that follows, the place that we will continue to call home.
My photographing of the landscape, my search for a vision, has turned out to be a symbol of the existential conflict between stability of place and movement through space. In both our social existence and our cosmic condition, we are pulled between staying and leaving, living and dying, hanging on and giving in. To move on, to become, is to leave something behind. In our leaving and dying we wish to be born again. I travel to find a home." 
"After years of traveling on other roads and high-ways, I have returned to the country roads of the Midwest. In looking for something to photograph in the landscape, I have discovered the importance of watching all things as they rise and pass away, of seeing things as they reading are. Experiencing the landscape in silence, in bare attention beyond thought, I have become aware of the absolute world and of the reality beyond words, of all that is immeasurable and mysterious." [72-73]
"How does one live on the order, on the edge of things, and especially, how does one live in this place near the end of one's time? Surely one comes to realize the transience of all things human and otherwise. A space in a vast and unknowable universe, it takes a certain courage to live a life on the borderland, to attend both to the suffering and the joy of living each day. Solace comes in knowing the wonder of being alive. In my case, writing, photography, a sense of place, and family–all affirm this existence as I know and experience it. One finally transcends boundaries and goes beyond the borderland." [xiii-xiv]
"I have sensed the sublime of the eternal–the sublime in everyday life–as I have taken to the road to photograph the landscape of the Midwest and afterward returned home. My spiritual practice has been and continues to be in the daily attention I give to creating a life moment by moment. . . . No other prayer or meditation is needed: grace is everywhere." [xiv]
"The world becomes stranger as we grow older. We start from home, wander for a while, and arrive at a place that is more complicated than any we have ever know." 
" I view and study the photographs I have accumulated over a lifetime, passed to me from ancestors, and the photographs I have taken over the last fifty years and more. A lifetime is recounted and enhanced as one moves intensely ito a deeper communion. I am transported by photographs under lamplight." 
Richard Quinney tells me that he was at the University of Kentucky from 1963 to 1965. I arrived in Lexington in 1963 as well, to begin my undergraduate studies at the University of Kentucky (where I would also obtain my law degree, in 1971). After completing his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, Quinney taught for two years at St. Lawrence University (Canton, New York), and then "accept a job as assistant profess at the University of Kentucky. Thousands of acres of Kentucky bluegrass fields surrounded by white wooden fences trailed beyond stately mansions. In Lexington, our of sight of middle-class houses, along the railroad tracks and behind the tobacco mills and warehouses, where the unpainted and dilapidated houses of the poor. . . .
ON a bright November afternoon, I walked downtown after teaching my sociology class. Along the way, the pace of traffic began to slow down as radios reported the first eyewitness accounts of a shooting in Dallas. Later it was confirmed that President John Kennedy had been assassinated, the shorts coming from the book-depository in Dealey Plaza. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the new president as Kennedy's body was flown across the country to Washington. A few days later, we watched on television the shooting of the assassination suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, as he was being transferred from jail.
My own thinking and writing in sociology were increasingly influenced by the turmoil and changes in the country. In the basement of our rented house near the university, I constructed a study and worked late into the night beside the warm furnace. . . . I read The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus for the first time, and I identified with the struggle that fills the human heart.
Evening under lamplight, I look at the photographs again." [26-27]
"The world does become stranger as we grow older. And more wondrous. And more mysterious, beyond our comprehension. This is our time under starlight, under lamplight." 
"Exploration is my theme–even more, my life force–these days, exploring the familiar, discovering something new in what has been there all along." 
"With the next snowfall, followed by the sun, I will drive my car and gather fragments on film. Through the viewfinder of the camera, I will see again, awakening to the winter fields and the trees and the fence lines." 
"My subject is the transition from one reality to another: the passing of an agricultural and industrial economy to another, the demise of a rural culture and the emergence of something that is beyond the suburban. Remnants of the old remain on the landscape and along the streets of small towns. Networks and patterns of the passing order mark the landscape–country roads, telephone and electric poles strung with wire, fence lines, iron bridges, the lone mailbox in front of an abandoned farm–yet the land is heavily tilled . . . . New housing developments are scattered across open fields. There are mini-malls and enclosed hog-raising operations. Much is new and all is for the taking in a photograph.
Of course, to my older sensibility, the landscape is being marred and the environment is being brutalized. But the process was already underway when the first settlers converted native lands into farms and towns. The long grass was plowed under, and railroads were built over the prairie.
I will neither lament the passing of the old order nor indict the new. As a son of the middle border, I am an integral part of what has happened in the past and what is happening now. With camera and notepad in hand, I record with compassion this existence of ours. We are of the landscape, and we too change and pass on to something else. Others will record the artifacts that remain from our time on this land." 
"I photograph to leave a record of what once was here. Whether the image is of fellow beings, of the material world they have constructed, or of the land they inhabited, the photograph substantiates that all this has existed. . . . The photograph is evidence." 
"Perhaps all photographs are about wonderment, about the ecstasy that comes in looking between the cracks, beyond the veil. . . . The photograph gives us evidence of time past and time passing. What once existence no longer exists except in memory or in viewing the artifact that is the photograph. In such evidence is the fact of life and death." 
"The image before us is ultimate about us. The photograph opens us to our existence, thus the importance of photography in our time. . . . We look at photographs, we photograph what we love and hold dear, and we entertain an end to all of this." 
"Yesterday I fashioned myself after Claude Monet. Out-of-doors, I photographed the true effects of light on the snow." 
"I am a stroller in these woods. This has been my form of participation in the world–sauntering from morning to night. Whether on the streets of a city or in the thickness of the woods, I have attended to the details of this everyday life. Roaming, observing, and occasionally noting in my journal the mystery of this life. Fragments have been gathered–in writings and in photographs–from a world that can never be grasped wholly.
My life, it seems, has been one of actively observing the world." 
"I will watch closely, participate, experience the mystery. Make a visual record with my camera. Keep a pen and writing pad at hand, remembering that the goal is always beyond the material: compassion, love, union with all that exists. Once again the wonder." 
"My life, much of the time it seems, is lived as an ethnographer. I use the tools at my disposal to describe and make sense of this life of mine. Camera in hand, I begin the day." [xiii]
"With camera in hand this morning, ready for a day of photographing, I know that the mystery of my true being is reflected in the light of the universe. . . .
Over the years my photographing of the light has changed. For a long time, my favorite time to photograph has been at high noon on bright and cloudless summer days. Only recently have I found an appealing light on an overcast day, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, in the winter, spring, or fall, often between seasons. My being, within the oneness of all, now favors another light." [22-23]
"In the act of photographing the landscape, the ordinary has become extraordinary. Everyday life and the things of everyday life have become elevated to the transcendent. We are now in the realm of sacred space, where the ordinary and the most mundane things of this world are of sacramental quality. The contemplation of any ordinary thing–through the viewfinder of my camera–is made extraordinary by the very fact of my giving attention, of being aware. Thoreau observes at the edge of Walden Pond, 'Only that day dawns to which we are awake.' The photograph is a constructed reality formed out of my particular perception and consciousness–the product of an act of love and attention.
And viewing the photograph at a later time is likewise a construction of the imagination brought about by a special awareness. the photograph now has an 'aura,' a presence that is more than artifice, and I the viewer experience a heightened sensibility in the presence of the photograph. In the black-and-white photograph, light creates and forms the image that comes to my eyes. Looking at the photograph, I am joined with the divine energy of the universe. Roland Barthes studies the photograph of his mother, no longer living. There is something more than the grain of the paper. He observes the photograph and notes, 'The effect it produces upon me is not to restore what has been abolished (by time, by distance) but to attest that what I see has indeed existed.'
"Yesterday I worked the country roads of DeKalb County, photographing the clouds rolling over meadows, soy bean fields, and wooded groves. Today I attend to a multitude of pleasant chores." 
"My camera, as usual of late, is near at hand. In fact, I now carry with me a small autofocus camera purchased last Saturday on a trip to Chicago. A record can be made of things that actually exist, or have ever existed, irrespective of their essence or meaning. The photograph is a document of existence. It is an artifact, as well, of my own existence. I was there, and I too existed. A reminder that everything, ultimately, is the stuff–the suchness–of pure existence, of the unfathomable and mysterious universe. Beyond form, beyond appearance, beyond this life itself, is what we uneasily call Nothing—bare existence."
"Writing–especially the fairly regular keeping of a journal–has been a part of my life for years. Early in my adult life, I developed the need to make sense of my life as lived daily. Important also has been the use of photography to see and understand the world." [ix]
"As the leaves fill out the trees, and as the grasses grow high, it is time to consider the truth of ruins. Soon I can begin to photograph the things that have come to ruin in my lifetime. A summer's journey that will lead to autumn and to the wintering of the places close to home." 
"I am at the farm again, having driven up yesterday with the intent of photographing the farm buildings. The light is not right for the photographs that I want to take, so I am working on a number of chores. While gathering wild asparagus along the road for last night's supper, I stood motionless and watched a fox run across the tilled land east of the barn. A weasel scurried into the ditch. A marsh harrier, in sleek silhouette, glided over the stubbled field. Thrushes and thrashers were feeding under the brush at the aging orchard. The invading honeysuckle bloomed profusely along the roadside." 
"My photography this summer has taken a new and unexpected turn. I had thought that 1 would be roaming the byways of Walworth County finding and photographing the remains–the ruins–of another time. I would be stopping by the roadside, setting up my tripod, and raking photographs of barns in various stages of abandon, rusting farm machinery in fields, falling silos, and vacant farmhouses. Instead, I am on the pathways I make by foot around the boundaries of the farm. My photographs are of landscapes seen from a distance and from very near. I now see more clearly the place where yet the sweet birds sing.
"Yesterday I went to the Art Institute in Chicago to see the exhibit of the photographs that Edward Weston made during the last years of his life. I boarded the train in Geneva, after driving from DeKalb, and arrived in Chicago an hour later. 1 had not been to Chicago for more than a year, since becoming ill last summer. I will think about–and see in my mind's eye–Weston's photographs for some time, I am certain." 
"I have been looking again at the photographs that Edward Weston made at his home in Carmel and at nearby Point Lobos late in his life. Landscape and family photographs that reflect more than ever the mood of his life. They capture a darkening time, as he is aging and experiencing the first tremors of Parkinson's disease. The Second World War is beginning, his sons are joining the armed forces, and his marriage is beginning to fail. His photographs of the late period show, as David Travis reminds us in the book prepared for the current exhibit at the Art Institute in Chicago, that 'here, the quiet lamentation of an accepted fate, rather than the lively celebration of a newly conquered world, seems to determine the resulting character.'" 
"I have been down the road, along the fence line, and to the bottom of the hill to photograph the goldenrod. This time of year, when I was growing up and working in the fields, my father would recite the poem beginning 'The goldenrod is yellow.' And the goldenrod is yellow again." 
"The photograph . . . is an authentication, a substantiation, that the subject in the photograph existed." 
"Photography resists a language of analysis. The mage speaks in silence. We give ourselves up to that which is beyond language and rational thought. Gift enough that a certain existences has been substantiated." 
"We stand before the image [the photograph] in all the wonder of existence. (This is what I hope to convey in my ethnography.) Perhaps all ethnography is about wonderment, about the ecstasy that comes in looking through the cracks, beyond the veil. We are playing in the fields of Time–and we entertain its good friend, Death." 
"The last roll of film from my winter of wandering is being developed. Black and white, night and day, the noise and the silence, the freezing and the melting, loneliness and companionship, life and death–each comes with the other." 
"Still, I am an ethnographer and a photographer, an observer playing with the pieces of a puzzle. But realizing now that the pieces need not fit together. Much of my time is still spent in solitude by choice and by circumstance. I live and work necessarily within this condition." 
"The professor takes to the road. He travels with his camera, photographing. Making a visual record; exploring; awakening to the day. Becoming one with the universe. His daily meditation.
"The professor is out photographing this morning. He is photographing inside of Sullivan's tavern. The large picture window looking out on Lincoln Highway is decorated for the holiday season. Bar stools are placed at the high table, and the television screen glows in the low morning light. He will photograph before patrons arrive for noontime sustenance." 
[The quotes from Richard Quinney's books are posted here with the gracious permission of Richard Quinney]
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