Photography has developed as the art of producing pictures or images on chemical
substances. The effect of light on silver compounds, particularly silver
nitrates, was known for years before anyone attempted to produce
photographs. Several scientists in the 18th century experimentes demonstrating the darkening effect of light on silver salts. The first true photographic experiments were conducted at the turn of the 19th century. The invention of digital photography has changed this in the 1990s and early in the 21st century will probably largely replace chemistry-based photography. The whole history of photography until the 1990s, however, has been chemistry based.
Two distinct scientific processes combined made photography possible. It is surprising that photography was not invented earlier than the 1830s, because these processes were known for quite some time. It was not, however, until the two distinct scientific processes had been put together that photography as we know it became possible. Photo publishing did not appear until the turn of the century when economical methods of publishing photographs were developed. The two key scientific processes were:
Optics: The first key process to photography is optical. The Camera Obscura (dark room) had been in existence for at least 400 years. Leonardo da Vinci drew one in 1519. Artists at the time conceived of the process as an aid to drawing.
Chemistry: The second process was chemical. People had been aware for hundreds of years before photography was invented that some colors were bleached by exposure to the sun. There was no consensus, however, as to the cause and few distinction between heat, air and light. Robert Boyle, a founder of the Royal Society, in the 17th century, for example, reported that silver chloride turned dark when exposed in the open, but he believed that the cause was exposure to the air, rather than to light. Another 17th century researcher, Angelo Sala, noticed that powdered silver nitrate was blackened by the sun. Johann Heinrich Schulze in 1727 discovered that certain liquids change colour when exposed to light.
The accumulating body of knowledge led to the developmnt of photography during the 19th century. English scientist, Thomas Wedgwood, began conducted experiments in 1802. Wedgwood made photographic copies of paintings on glass by exposing paper coated with silver cloride to light under the glass paintings. The priocess was rather like that still used by photographers for making contact prints. Wedgewood consulted with another Englishman, Sir Humphrey Davy in the production of silhouettes. While Wedgwood successfully captured images, but his silhouettes could not survive, as there was no known method of making the image permanent. Wedgwood was largely unsuccessful in producing pictures of objects but did produce an image of the sun with a lens by focusing it on colored paper. French researcher Louis Jacques Mande Niépce succeeded in producing the first lithographic printing plates by means of a process called heliogravure. The chemical process involved involved asphaltum which becomes insoluable when exposed to light. This process was adequate for lithography and in fact is the basic process still used today with modifications. The process was not, however, suitable for photography. The chemical process involved was not sufficently sensative for photography. Niépce produced a picture in 1826 by using material that hardened on exposure to light. The first picture required an exposure of 8 hours. Niépce agreed to go into partnership with Louis Daguerre (1829), but died within only a few years (1833). William Henry Fox Talbot, a British scholar, suceeded in fixing an image on paper (1834), but did not publicize his achievement or attempy to develop it commercially. Daguerre was making progress in perfecting Niépce's system and was interested in developing commercial applications.
Daguerre continued Niépce's experiment. He accidentally discovered that exposed photographic plates were developed by Mercury vapors. This
greatly reduced the exposure time from 8 hours down to 1/2 an hour. Daguerre announced his discovery in 1839 and named it the Daguerreotype. [Note the link is to a costume board, you have to scroll down to select the Daguerrrotype
Society.] It was a sensation and an instant popular success. The announcement that
the Daguerreotype "requires no knowledge of drawing...." and that "anyone may succeed.... and perform as well as the author of the invention" was greeted with enormous interest, and
"Daguerreomania" became a craze overnight. The process could produce strikingly beautiful images. They provide us rhe first true photogaphs of the 19th century.The Daguerreotype process, though good, was expensive. In addition, it produced a positive image which could not be duplicated.
The ambrotype was a less expensive alternative to the daguerreotype. By the 1850s
it had become the dominant form of photographic portraiture. Frederick Scott Archer improved the calotype and invented the "wet collodin" negative. A glass plate was cleaned and iodized collodin was poured onto it, then it
was immersed in a silver-nitrate bath. This was put into the camera while still wet, and the development had to be performed before it dried. A variation of the "wet collodin" was the ambrotype. The ambrotype is an underexposed wet-collodin negative on glass. Ambrotypes were mounted against black backing appearing like a positive, but did not have the tonal range of a Daguerreotype and could not be duplicated. The tintype was a variant of the ambrotype (Ferrotype or Melaninotype). It produced positive images usually on a thin sheet of iron. This process was easier, cheaper, and unbreakable compared to the ambrotype, but lacked the tonal range. Ambrotypes, tintypes made the Daguerreotype a dead art. These forms eventually became dead arts also with the development of the dry plate process and negatives.
Tintypes became enormously popular in the United States during the Civil War and the 75 or so years following, they were used to depict every aspect of American life. The most typical 19th century tintype was of course still the studio portrait. Tintypes were easier to make than Daguerreotypes or Ambrotypes, and the customer did not have to return for prints as with negative/positive processes. It was not the first instant process, but it was certainly the one more people could afford. Being easier to make and less expensive opened the door for a new type of photographer.
English scholar and inventor William Henry Fox Talbot discovered that an image could be made permanent by immersing it in salt (1834). Ordinary salt disolved the unexposed silver cloride leaving only the darkened silver image. The process is called "fixation". Modern chemical-based photography is still based on this process. Talbot made no effort to publicize his process or develop a commrcial application. While the initial images were not as sharp as Daguerreotypes, the process proved less expensive and multiple
prints could be made from the resulting negative. Talbot modestly called his process calotype and not a Talbotype. Talbot by 1840 had made some significant improvements and his process eventually replaced Daguerreotypes, but not until the 21860s. Prices for daguerreotypes varied, but in general would cost about a
guinea (£1.05), which would be the weekly wage for many workers. The collodion process, however, was much cheaper; prints could be made for as little as one shilling (5p). It did not become commercially viable, however, until the development of albumen paper. The two most important types of negative portraits made with albumen paper in 19th century studios were cartes-de-visite (CDVs)and cabinent cards. The cartes-de-visite, a photographic visiting card, was the size of a business card with a portrait or scene mounted to a cardboard backing made by using a wet plate negative allowing unlimited copies to be made.
The mushrooming number of photographic establishments reflected photography's growing popularity. The early photographs were very expensive, but as refinements were made prices began declining. Greater volume helped to further reduce costs. A mere handful of photograpic studios existed in the mid-1840s, but grew to 66 in 1855, and to 147 only 2 years later. In London, a favourite venue was Regent Street where, at the peak in the mid-1960s, there were no less than 42 photographic establishments! The growth was just as dramatic in America. The first studio appeared in America during 1839 and the country by 1850 had 77 photographic galleries in New York alone.
Talbot used paper for his negatives and the grain structure in the
paper affected printed images. Several experimented with glass as a
basis for negatives, but the problem was to make the silver solution
stick to the shiny surface of the glass. Abel Niépce de Saint-Victor, a cousin of Nicephore Niépce, in 1847 perfected a process of coating a glass plate with albumen (egg white) sensitised with potassium iodide and washed with an acid solution of silver nitrate. This new (albumen) process made for very fine detail and much higher quality. However, it was very slow. Photographs produced on this substance were architecture and landscapes as portraiture was simply not possible. Chemical refinements introduced by English photographer Frederick Scott Archer gave excellent results, but his wet-collodian process required a complicated development process. While this was manageable in
a studio, it was extremely inconvenient for landscape or current event
photography. Early photographers like Mathew Bradey, famed for his
Civil War (1861-65) photography, had to drag around not only a camera, but
a fully equipped darkroom. Frenchman Andre Disdéri provided a further impetus to photography for the masses by the introduction of carte-de-visite (CDV) photographs. This
developed into a mania, though it was relatively short-lived.
Most photographs taken in the 19th century were portraits. While there were a few amateur photographers and some wealthy people had cameras by the 1890s, the vast majority of photographs were taken in studios by professional photographers. It was not until 1900 with the appearnce of the Kodak Brownie that snap shots began to appear. Quite a number of different types of photographs were taken by these professional photographers. The two most important formats were CDVs and cabinent cards.
One interesting aspect of phographic studios is the backdrops they used. These backdrops were not invemted along with photography. In fact it took several decades for enterprising individuals to think up the idea and for it to become poplar. Early photographic portraits had plain, often dark backdrops. Only in the 1860s do we begin to see backdrops and they were rather simple. It was not until the 70s that elaborate backdrops become common place. The time-line and the types of backdrops varied chronologically and from country to country. Germany seems to have played an important role in popularizing the idea of backdrops and German firms sold these backdrops. The backdrops offered also varied from studio to studio. The more established studios, of course, offered the greatest choice in backdrops and the most elaborate ones. The inspiration here may have been painted portraits which often had elaborate backdrops. We rather thought that studios would tend to offer backdrops in keeping with local conditions, but city studios commonly had rural backdrops. In fact city backgrounds are quite rare. We are not sure why that was. We note that studios in seaside resport towns commonly has beach backdrops. One source tells us that beack resorts were no unusyal in inland cities. We can not yet confirm that.
Photograpy provided a way for even modest income people to obtain family portraits. Photographers replaced many portrait paintes, especially those of limited skills. One disadvantage to photographic portraits, however, was they they were black and white. Inventors and chemists began working on color photography from a very early stage. Practical color photography did not appear until the 20th cebntury. In the meantime we note as earely as the 1860s, artists touching up a photographic portrait by painting over it or more commonly tinting the print. This practice continued into the early 20th century until actual color photography became available.
The invention and improvement of photography created a problem--what to do with the finished portraits. Early photographs were very expensive and fragile. This meant there was not a very serious problem because there were not very many photographs, but they hzd to be well protected. Thus the initual system of little cases worked well. Gradually less expensive tin-type and negative processes were developed. This created prints in large numbers. Encasing them was no longer a reasonable solution and they were not as prone to damage. Rather prints were mounted on carboard. These mounbts came in many colors and print types. Families soon found themselves with piles of photographs. The sollution to photographic clutter was albums in which CDVs and cabinent cards could be collected and brought out for friends and relatives. Negatives also enabled photographic studios to print enlargements that could be framed for wall displays. Tin types often came in inexpensive paper mounts. After the turn of the 20th century, cardboard mounts gave way to paper mounts of various desifns. All of these dipperent approaches and the styling associated with them can be used to help date photographs.
Emulsion speeds are a subject of some interest because they affected posing which can be used to help date images. The early photographic formats like Daguerreotypes had very slow emulssion speeds. This required a person to sit very still. This is why the subject in dags was often posed sitting down. Even so, studios had chairs with head rest to help the person hold his head still. The slow emulsions are why people are no smiling in dags and other early portraits. Smiles are fleeting and in fact can not be mauntained for long periods. There was a major change in posing ith the development of negarive photography and the popular acceptance of CDVs about 1860. Suddenly we see a lot of individuals bing posed standing up. This was possible because of faster emulsion speeds, but the speeds were still relarively slow. Thus stanfs were needed to help the standing individul remain still. Stands behind the subjects in 1860s and 70s CDVs and cabinet cards. This became less common in the 1880s as film speeds increased, but we still occassionaly see the stands even in the 1890s. An example is an American boy in 1891. A German reader has seen stands being used even after the turn of the 20th century.
Major developments in photographt were made in a small number of countries, primarily England, France, Germany, and the United States. Commercial photography began with the development of the Daguerreotype in France. Frederick Scott Archer (1813-1857) in England invented the photographic collodion process which preceded the modern gelatin emulsion. The ambrotype used this process. Prof. Hamilton L. Smith in America developed the tintype or ferrotype process in 1856. He patented the process. The tintype was an almost instant process, ideal for both small-scale local and itinerant street photographers.
As the name suggests, the origins of the CDV using a negative process was French. One source indicates that the carte-de-viste or CDV was first introdued in 1851. I have been unable to confirm that. Another source indicates that a French photographer, André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, introduce the CDV about 1854. Over the rest of the 19th century, quite a number of experimenters made improvements in chemistry improving speeds. The next major step was emulsions and film. Several inventors made important contributions. It was the Americam George Eastman that created the first user frindly camera for anateurs--the Kodak Brownie. Germany was a leader in cilor photography, but German industry was destroyed in World war II and Kodak energed as a world leader in photography after the War, dominating the market for may years.
The development of an easy to use film was the primaru factor inhibiting the development of photography in the late 19th century. John Wesley Hyatt in 1873 began the process
of solving this problem. Hyatt invented and registered the name "celluloid." He did not actually invent the substance celluloid, but did develop a way of molding the plastic and making it stay hard. Hyatt used celluloid for making a variety of solid objects. George Eastman, a bank clerk, was so interested in photography that in 1877 he bought a $94 photographic outfit. He immeditately saw that dry plates could revolutionize photography. He personally invented and patented a new machine in 1879 that could coat glass plates.
The use of glass was still a major limitation. Eastman needed a flexible, light, and unbreakable substance that could be coated with the photographic substance to produce negatives. Celluloid was of course the answer. Eastman in 1884 patented a way of coating paper strips that could be used in a camera. This began the process of manking photography accessable to the general public.
We note one common type of photography in the 19th century that has disappeared today. We note large numbers of post-mortem photos diring the 19th and beginning 20th century. We note this phenomenon both in Europe and America. I am not sure why this was so common, but many people wanted these photograhs to remember their loved ones. It was especially common ith children, although there were also post-mortem pprtraits of older family members. A factor may have been that so many children died young of now easily prevented or cured diseases. in those times died early because of incurable diseases. Many of these photographs are very sad. The children look so peaceful, often with carefully folded hands. After World war I these portraits became much less common. I'm unsure why this convention disappeared at why the change occurred after Word War I.
Photography for most of the 19th century was studio bound. For photography to move out of the studio and be available to ordinary people, it was clear that a dry method was required. Many experts contributed to this, but it was not until George Eastman released the "Brownie," in 1900 that amateur photograpy became a real possibility and snap shots began to reveal the everyday lives of people. This was a major development and explains why so many photographic images begin appearing in 1900 of everyday people in all kinds of dressy and informal outfits going about their lives.
Most photographs that had come down to us are either studio portraits or family snapshots. We also notice a fascinating category of photographs--street photographs. Some photographers made their living taking photographs on the street. Some would work in the same location for years. We notice this in England and believe that it was common in other European countries as well. We believe this was most common before World war II, but we still see street photographers in many tourist locations.
Popular in the Victorian times was stereoscopic photography, which reproduced images in three dimensions. It is a process whose popularity
waxed and waned--as it does now--reaching its heights in the mid-Victorian era. Few homes in the 19th century were without an affordable stereoscopic viewer that presented a "3D" vision of popular scenes. I am not sure when they first appeared, but I know they were quite common by the 1880s. They were a very popular diversion in the Victorian home. At the time there were no movies and magazines did not yet have photographic images. They came in a wide variety of subjects, including historic houses, ships, city and farm scenes, family scenes and many other topics.
Most were informative, but some were made with a little humor such as a boy's sister and beau in the parlor. The boy friend eventually has to give the little brother a coin to leave them along.
We notice some portraits done as pins. These were normally round button-like pins attached to the clpthing by a large pin on the back. I an not sure just when these pins first first appeared. We associate them with political campaigns and they are still used in this way as well as other promotional campaigns.Some just had a portrait. Others werre done with decrative borders. I am not sure just how these photo pins were used. I don't think adults would have worn them and they do not seem to be the kind of pin children would have worn. Perhaps they were done as treats for younger children. Booths at country or state fairs are another possibility.
Advances in both photography and color lithogrtaphy combined to create a new postcard industry in Europe and America. Collecting postcards became a popular hobby. Even those that didn't collect postcards would often put ones they liked are received from family and friends in the ubiquitous family albumns kept in the parlor for visitors to see. Children were popular subjects for these postcards. Thus many early 20th century images come to us through postcards. Important differences exist between countries. Some post cards are actual family snapshots. Others are idealized posed images, no doubt reflecting how mothers thought their children should look. These images of children declined in popularity during the 1930s and after World War II (1939-45) were no longer an important subject for postcards.
The work of some photographers are particularly noteworthy. Here we will not catalog all great photographers. We will exclude landscape photrraphers (such as Ansel Adams) and war photography (Mathew Brady) and rather concentrate on portrait, people, and everyday life. Such photography can provide important fashion information. We know of a few such photraphers of special interest and will gradually add to the list as we learn of more such photographers. We are focusing here on 19th century photographers, but will add 20th century photographers as well if there work includes useful child stufies.
The photogtraphic booth was a popular attraction at the beach prominade and other events like state fairs and other resort liocations. Later it proved popular in shopping malls. I am not sure when they first appeared they may have appeared as early as the turn of the 20th century. Early booths may have been able to shootg more than cloiseups. TYhe early booths were presumably not automatic, but probably they were rapidly processed. We are not yet sure about this. The modern fdigital campera had probably made the photo booth a relic, but here we are not yet sure.
It is interesting to note the expresions and formality in the 19th century portraits and compare them with the photography of the 20th century. A major factor here is the introduction of the Kodak Brownie which made the snap shot possible for even families of modest means. The increasing familiarity with photography is another important factor. A reader writes, "Thank you for this this interesting snap shot. Snaphots have a quality not found in other photographs, an immediacy that makes them seem more real than more formal photographs. With this photograph I am able to believe that at one time small boys really were dressed like that. In my explorations of the net I've found that different societies made the transition from the panicked deer-in-the-headlights look to a more naturalistic look at different times. The first to make that transition were the
Americans and Dutch a century ago. The Americans due I suppose to the Kodak Brownie camera making people more comfortable with being photographed, and maybe there was something similar in the Netherlands. By contrast some Eastern European nations only made that transition in the last 30 years. I suppose it came for them when photography had become cheap enough that it was more a personal thing than an official thing.
My own grandmother was always a little nervous and stiff around cameras. Maybe that was because she was born in 1893 in the Russian Empire, or maybe it was just because she was shy."
Color photographic processes were developed in the late 19th century, but black and white photography dominated for the first half of the 20th century. Commercial color photography appeared in the 1930s, but it was expensive and the dyes unstable. Some color negatives my father took in the 1940s had faded beyond use by the 1950s. Color snap shots did not become common until the 1960s. Kodak invented the Instamatic camera in 1963, and began the mass marketing of color film. Until then, virtually all photographs had been in black and white. In the early 1970s, sales of color film outstripped black and white and today it accounts for all but a tiny percentage of the film sold throughout the world. Families are now finding that photographs taken as recently as 30 years ago are already fading in the nation's family albums. The future probably may with the digital camera, but color film still is used for the vast majority of the photographs taken around the world and the ability to take photographs with a simple camera still appeals to many.
Many believe that digital photography will replace chemical based photography within a few years. Digital photography has certainly made its presence felt in the industry, and it is conceivable that a large segment of the amateur point and shoot market will indeed be mostly covered by digital cameras, and a large segment of photo-journalism is already covered by digital equipment. Yet conventional films still have a considerable advantage
when it comes to overall sharpness and tonal range of the image. While digital cameras have the ability to equal 35mm and even medium format photography, at least with scanning systems, we must not forget the incredible possibilities offered by large format systems. Digital photography is still in its infancy and currently is still trying to catch up with the capabilities of conventional film materials. Film is now giving way to the digital image, according to Doug Nishimura, a research scientist at the Image Permanence Institute in Rochester, New York. However, he advises thinking twice before rushing out to transfer all your photographs on to CD-Rom. Mr Nishimura said: "You have to be prepared to refresh the images every five to ten years as the hardware evolves. "Otherwise, all you will have in the attic for your grandchildren is a rather nice frisbee." Hollywood films suffer the same colour shifts as any family photograph. Earlier movies filmed on cellulose nitrate became explosively unstable and prone to spontaneous combustion. Cellulose acetate, onto which many were copied, developed "vinegar syndrome" - disintegration accompanied by the smell of acetic acid. Vinyl records have a life expectancy of about 50 years before the material begins to break down. Acetate recordings, made before the invention of magnetic tape, have already passed their play-by date. Audio and video cassette tapes are relatively stable, but wear out quickly when played. Computer floppy disks, pictured, in regular use could last as little as a year. The newer fast back-up drive has no moving parts but the information contained is attacked by a constant bombardment of neutrinos and high-energy particles. There have been warnings that the metal and plastic from which compact discs are made will eventually delaminate, destroying the information they contain. Digital technology may appear to hold greater promise, but beware: you need the hardware to access the information and no one knows what will be available in 10 years time, let alone 100 years.
Most early photographers were men. The noted phothraphers of the 19th and early 20 century were largely, but not exclusively men. This continued into the 20th century. Boys generally showed a much greater interest in photography than girls. Boys are much likely to pursue photography as a hobby. Acquirng faster and longer lenses and the latest gizmo seems to appeal ti boys more than girls. More girls are now going into photography, often draw by the artistic potential pf the media. At least in America, the gap between boys and girls in photography has narrowed considerably. We are less sure about other countries.
Boys were little involved with photography in the 19th century. It was too complicated and too expensive for boys. Some boys may have been hired as aprentices in photographic studios or assisted their fathers, either studio photographers or hobbiests. For the most part, however, few boys could engage in photography. This changed with the advent of the 20th century. The Brownie and other casmeras that followed, were simple and inexpesive enough for children to use. Here it was mostly boys who took an interest, just like most early professional photographers were men. . Some boys took a real interest in photography. We see images of boys taking photographs and of course they liked being photographed with their cameras. Quite a number of photographs show American boys with cameras.
Collecting has always been a popular passtime. In recent years collectors have increased the range of collectables. It is no longer limited to stamps, coins and a range of fine art artifacts. Photography has become a passion for many. Collectors usually specialize on certain areas from landscape to people.
Children are a popular subject, but many collectors focus on specific tpoics from goat carts to sports. Many specialize in certain periods. There are many sorces of photographs available to collectors:
Flea markets: Most flea markets have someone, usually several, peopple selling old books, prints, post cards, and photographs. There are often oldtime photographs availabe.
E-bay: You can even buy old photographs on the intenet. The new E-Bay auctin system lets you view and bid on photograps. Just click on the following link and search for "photo +children": E-Bay.
Apertures Press: You can purchase images from the 1960s-80s on a wide range of clothing and costumes, including English, New Zealand, Scottish school uniforms; Greek, Irish, and Scottish dancing costumes; and Cub and Scout uniforms. Inquiries can be sent to: Apertures Press. There are a number of auctions currently underway on E-bay.
Old photographs: There are many sites on the internet showcasing old photographs. Some of the sites are simply to display the photographs. Others are designed to sell the photographs. Have a look at these sites and see what you can find: Old photographic sites.
HBC readers have mentione several very important photographic collections of children. These collections offere many dated photogreaphs offering valuable information on clorging trends over time. Arizona State University has a large collection of images from 17th centuiry to the present. Harvard Universirt has a large collection of pictures of child actors (theater and film) from the last 100-150 years. The Library of Congress extensive historical images of children and young people pn their websites. The Natioanl Archives has extensive historical images of children and young people on their website. HBC hopes that readers will prob\vide us information on importanr collections with which they may be familiar.
The social historian can find photographs quite useful in developing
a better understanding of everyday life in previous eras. Unfortunately many old photographs do not have any deails about who the people pictured are, when, and where they were photographed, and other details. Sometimes information can be easily induced. Some images, however, are very difficult to assess. As a result some guidelines are needed to help assess images.
HBC has used photographs and other images as historical documents. While photographs can be very useful historical documents there are also subject to misuse and misunderstanding. Here no images are more prone to misunderstanding than images of war, especially casulaties of war. Sone of the earliest images of mankind are of hunting. Some of the earliest sophisticated images deal with the glories of rulars and their victories in war. The depiction of the victims of war is a much more recent historical phenomena. The interpretation of these images is often a matter of great controversy. This is beause one side used these images to show the evil nature of the other side. The other side explains these images a regretable incident in the war. All too often, the public's reactin will be affected by who the victims are. An image of a dead child will horrify most observers. Add a caption explaing that the child is an Isreali or a Paletinian and many people's reaction will be significantly altered.
HBC in its various pages has primarily used studio portraits and, after the turn of the 20th century, snap shots to chronicle trends in boy's fashions. Photographs like art, however, can engender emotional responses and influence public opinion. HBC can think of several photographs of boys which not only chronicled clothing trends, but had a significant impact on contemporary and historical opinion. Several photographs come immediately to mind. Some of these photographs include several WPA depression era photograhs--I have not yet picked one (1930s), the Jewish boy in the Warsaw ghetto (1943), John Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's casket (1963), the British boy being patted by Sadam Husein (1980), and Karavan Karasic? with a Bosnian boy outside Sebernecia (199?). Please let HBC know if you have a photograph which should be added to this list.
Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others.
Thomson, Ellen Mazur. The Origins of Graphic Design in America, 1870-1920
(Yale University Press, 1997).
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