*ooof*: More Meat Than a Chop

With the excitement building around the impending appearance of Mr A in Hannibal, one easily forgets the work he already has in the can but that is as yet unpublished. Thanks to some persistent fan-massage engagement on Twitter, director/writer Candida Brady has released a new picture from Urban and the Shed Crew which sheds further light on the film – and allows renewed swooning over a particular long-legged actor… For ulterior reasons I usually prefer *ooof*ing images which show only Mr A on his own. But I have to admit that this one – predictably – poked at my heart and thus convinced me to give it the *ooof* treatment (even without more or less gentle prodding from various terriers… ooops… readers 😉 you know who you are… ) : RA holding on to a little boy? Irresistible. Yeah, you can tell I am a female with a surplus of estrogen… And it doesn’t even matter that there is a female character in the image, she almost blends into the background… but we’ll get to that later. Let’s start with a look at the image:

UATSC Alistair Morrison

Film still from Urban and the Shed Crew by Alistair Morrison, 2014

The first thing we see in this image is a dividing wall made of brick. It divides the photograph into two unequal halves. On the left-hand side of the wall we see a woman, casually dressed in tight grey jeans and a shoulder-exposing grey shirt, leaning her back against the wall. Her face is turned towards the camera, her gaze is further to the right. Matching her on the other side of the dividing wall is a man, equally casually dressed in jeans, t-shirt, checked shirt and knee-length open coat. While his body is turned towards the camera, he has placed his forehead against the wall. With his right hand he in turn holds a young boy who is leaning his back against his side.

When I got stuck into analysing the image, I was taken by surprise how much I could say about it. There was so much more meat in it than only a chop, if you pardon the pun. The composition alone proves to be very telling when one takes some of the background information about the literary source, Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew by Bernard Hare, into account. At first sight, the image exudes an air of symmetry. Focussing on the part of the image that contains the subjects, we superficially perceive a mirror image: If you take the vertical red brick wall as the centre, you will notice that the man’s casually crossed-over leg creates a strong line in the image. It is more or less mirrored by the woman’s legs. Similarly, the crooked line of the broken, white-washed brick wall behind the man is mirrored on the other side of the image by a line on the wall, presumably created by shadow. The shadow line and the white brick line effectively create a frame around the subjects of the photograph, following the contours of their poses from a narrow point at the top (their heads) to a wider point at the bottom (their legs and feet) – a triangular shape. While the symmetry appeals to our sense of aesthetic, the diagonal lines nevertheless add a dynamic feel to the image – they upset our in-built need for right-angled parallel-line harmony. This is a small indication of a message of disharmony in the image.

However, the image is not symmetrical anyway, as you have undoubtedly noticed at first glance. There is an imbalance, caused by the vertical line of the brick wall. The wall is not in the centre of the picture, but Morrison has framed (or cropped) the scene in such a way that the image is divided in two halves at a ratio of roughly 2:1. The image is therefore a nice rule of thirds composition with (a nonetheless aesthetically pleasing) asymmetry. And this has implications for the interpretation. As it is, the photographer chooses to “squeeze” two of his three subjects into the smaller part of the image, to the right of the wall, leaving the bigger part of the image (on the left of the wall) populated with only one subject.

This may seem illogical. Wouldn’t we give more room to two people than to one person, even in an image, and even if only to balance the two sides? But the composition is no coincidence. There is no professional photographer out there who frames and composes their pictures *without* care and deliberation. Morrison knows what he is trying to convey with the image, and by placing the subjects of his image in this way, he helps us understand what is going on in the image. He adds to the obvious clues – one person on her own vs two people together – and emphasises the message: What we see is an imbalance. The single person – whom we can identify as Greta, Urban’s mother and Chop’s casual/occasional partner – looks lost in the bigger space she is given in the image. Chop and Urban, on the other side, are squeezed into the smaller part of the image. Their “togetherness” is emphasised. Effectively, we are presented with the opposition/contrast of “loneliness” vs. “company”.

I am not sure whether this is a sensation that every viewer of this image is experiencing, but when I look at the image, I perceive a sort of dynamic, inherent movement from the left towards the right. This is partly down to the composition – the empty space on the left of the image vs the populated space on the right, and with the turned head of the female subject. But it also has to do with the fact that there seems to be almost a progression of meaning from the left towards the right – from empty space = nothingness on the left to undecided passivity and loneliness of one person in the middle, to two figures, warm company and a decisive stance of longing, conveyed in the bowed head, on the right.

I find it extremely interesting how composition and picture ratio can have an impact on the message of an image. Just for experimentation I cropped the image to a square. Have a look at this:

UATSC Alistair Morrison cropped square

Do you notice the changed dynamics? Greta is given less space in this version while Chop and Urban all of a sudden seem to have more space (even though I have not cropped anything away from their side of the image). Here, Chop and Urban occupy (roughly) two thirds of the square image. Their togetherness stands out even stronger now, and Greta’s loneliness has been reduced. Instead, there is a claustrophobic feel to the image now. With less space around her, Greta appears to literally have “her back against the wall” and to look more poignantly for a way out, or a way to be part of company, rather than be alone. She also seems to have blended into the background with her grey clothes matching the colour of the rubble and walls around her. The imbalance still occurs but now the dynamic progression I spoke about above seems to move from the right to the left – from the warm company of two towards the lonely person on the left. Fascinating. (Aesthetically, btw, the rectangular image is far more pleasing as it leaves more space for the viewer to rest their eyes on. It gives you room to breathe, to sit back and to take in the image, while the square format is altogether cramped and claustrophobic in this instance. Good thing that Morrison did not muck around with this…)

If you look at the posture of the subjects in the image, the dynamics of the implied conflict are also emphasised by the poses of the two adult characters in the image. We see Greta’s body mostly from the side as she is leaning against the wall with her back (more or less). Her head is turned towards the camera, but by gazing further towards the wall, she appears dynamic or undecided, as if she is in the process of either looking towards the wall or turning away from it. At the same time her dangling arms make her appear passive, frustrated, resigned, unsure what to do. Chop on the other side has turned his body towards the camera, touches the wall with his shoulder, and stares at the wall, resting against the wall, holding Urban to himself. He looks more static than Greta, yet relaxed, at ease, not passive, but more as if he knows what he wants. Both figures could be interpreted to be longing for the person(s) on the other side of the dividing wall. However, Chop appears to be more committed to that than Greta, who has (literally) turned her back on the wall/Chop/Urban.

The contradictory body poses add to the dynamic feel of the image that I mentioned above. And they provide the tension that makes an image interesting. Contradictions and ambiguity raise questions, such as: Is Greta pining or turning? Does she feel alone or does she need space? Is Chop calm or resigned? The more questions we are faced with, the more time we spend with an image. Therefore the ambiguity in this image most likely is wanted by the photographer. As are the contrasts: Plenty of space on the left vs. cramped space on the right. One person on the left vs. two people on the right. Or shadow on the left vs. light on the right – another little enhancing detail that adds to the interpretation: Greta is in shadow whereas Chop and Urban are in the light. Speaking in metaphor, she is lost in darkness while they see the light of day.

Beside the conflict there is also harmony in the image – the visual harmony conveyed through symmetrical composition, and the harmony of identical poses. This is particularly clear when looking at Chop and Urban. Their poses are identical in the sense that both subjects are leaning with one leg crossed over the other. They are “in tune”, so to speak, a common occurrence between two people who are familiar with each other. And not only that – the boy posing the same way as the man alludes to the typical behaviour of a child consciously or subconsciously copying a respected or loved adult. Awwww. It is a trope that was already visualized in a previous image from the set of UATSC which I *ooof*ed here. This evidence of a child copying an adult, of course, appeals very much to us as adult female viewers. And gently the ovaries pop… If we didn’t know the literary source, we would assume that the man and the boy are father and son – joined by familial love. Yet, in truth they are unlikely friends and thus the impact on the knowledgable viewer is even stronger. The poses speak of trust and admiration on part of the boy, as he leans “on” the man, and convey the care and affection for the boy on part of the man – he holds the boy two himself, giving him stability and shelter. And that is literally what Chop is providing for Urban in the story. This kind of stuff works predictably well on me as a woman – I get all mushy and sentimental when I see a man and a child. Yes, cave woman is still alive in me. Or maybe I have just been head-f*cked by the clever manipulation of the image…

Talking of manipulation – I am slightly suspicious of the central brick wall in this image, and thus with the production of the image as such. What I mean is that I suspect the image was not shot as we see it here, but that it originated as two images and possibly was then stitched together on the computer screen in post-production. The vertical line of the brick wall in the middle to me looks slightly out-of-sync with the rest of the set. Particularly what appears as a white line running down the length of the wall, looks a little bit too regular and straight to me than to be an authentic brick wall. (Compare it with the red brick wall that Greta is leaning on on the left – the edge looks more irregular, and *real*, to me than the one on the right.) Has this been photoshopped onto the picture? If so, maybe the photographer needed a stronger separating line between the two sides of the image. Or maybe I am barking up the wrong wall, eh, tree, and this wall did exist in situ but was artificiallly built for the set, hence the uncharacteristic, smooth-ish edge? The inconsistent lighting indicates that I could be right: The light source illuminates Urban and Chop slightly from behind, top right. Yet the front side of the wall that is facing the camera does not display any shadow – as it logically should (compare with the shadows on Chop or on the lower wall that juts out towards the camera – there are clear shadows to be seen there, but not on the taller bit of the wall. Curious…).

Manipulation or not – the image affects me as a viewer. Yes, some of that is due to one of the subjects, whom I enjoy seeing in new photos. But it is also due to the composition and subject matter of the image. The photo tells a story. It challenges me to interpret it and find meaning in it, to put the subjects into context with each other. It helps that I have read the book. The image may not exactly convey what I took from the book – I do not remember Greta pining for Chop; in fact, the romantic connection between Chop and Greta seemed secondary to me. In that sense the image leads the viewers on the wrong track: Urban and the Shed Crew is not a love story between a man and a woman. If anything, it is a “love” story between a man and a boy who ultimately rescue each other through mutual affection, and who deliberately have to abandon the woman who is lurking in the shadow of their shared warmth and affection. To me, the image certainly conveys that. Well done to Morrison. He certainly makes me look forward to seeing more meat. Eh. Chop.

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37 thoughts on “*ooof*: More Meat Than a Chop

  1. Ein herzliches Vergelt’s Gott den lästigen Kläffern :-). So ein Bild kann und darf doch nicht unbesprochen bleiben. Interessant die Aufteilung des Bildes 2:1 und die unterschiedliche Verteilung mit den Personen. Und ja, die Ansicht ist eine komplett andere, wenn man das Bild als Quadrat sieht. Gefällt mir sehr gut. Das Bild und deine Analyse. Ich muß auch ständig darauf starren und dabei wandert mein Blick merkwürdigerweise immerzu an diesen langen Beinen rauf und runter. Die Kompositon scheint zu funktionieren 🙂
    Ach ja, und was für ein nettes Wiedersehen mit dem legendären Arschbetrüger. Das wird mir auf ewig unvergessen bleiben, denn das war mein Einstiegskontakt mit dir 😉 “Wie der Arschbetrüger mein Leben veränderte”. So aus dem Kontext gerissen klingt das schon ein wenig irritierend 🙂

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    • LOL – echt, der “Arschbetrüger” hat uns zusammengebracht? Ich erinnere mich auch noch daran. Ist ja auch ein schönes Wort 😀 Bei näherer Betrachtung des ollen Mantels fällt mir allerdings auf, dass er länger ist als ein typischer Arschbetrüger. Hmph.
      Auf die Beine bin ich gar nicht näher eingegangen… die 90er waren einfach Jeans-technisch zu “Schlag”… aber er ist schon ziemlich lecker. Einen schönen Mann kann eben nichts entstellen.

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      • Ha, der Arschbetrüger ist aber ein anderer als auf deinem anderen Chop-ooof. Da wo die Jungs die Straße zusammen runtergehen. Das Teil dort sieht aus wie so ein oller Parka. Und ist mächtig unförmig. Der hier im Bild ist vieeeel amsprechender. Nicht so zeltmäßig.

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  2. Your comment about the ‘white line’ is dead on. Interesting observation. Up until the moment you mentioned it, my focus was on those long, long, long legs.

    Regardless, this shot as somehow managed to quickly put itself among my favorite pictures of him. Most definitely my favorite picture of Chop.

    They need to release this film, already.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, I almost feel like apologizing that I took your gaze away from those long, long legs… Surely a nicer sight than scrutinizing a (fake) brick wall… 😀
      My favourite Chop is still the rubble walk, I have to say, purely because he is picture on his own. But this is the closest shot we have yet seen of him as Chop, so it’s up there, too. And I can’t wait for the film, either. After initial doubts I now think it is looking good. I’d love to see more of it.

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  3. Interessantes *ooof*. Das Dreieck aus weißem Putz rechts, Schatten links hatte ich gar nicht registriert … Aber daran sind Richards dämliche Stelzen schuld – die sind magnetisch und ziehen den Blick an, eindeutig. *gg*

    Ich mag das Bild eigentlich nicht besonders. Gretas Haltung vom Kopf und Oberkörper erinnert mich an das flüchtende baldige Mordopfer in einem Horrorfilm, und das ist eine Assoziation, die so widersprüchlich zum Rest des Bildes ist, dass ich nicht weiß, was ich davon halten soll – es irritiert einfach nur, 😀

    Zum vorletzten Absatz: Die Wand zwischen den Personen.
    – Ich glaube, da folgst du zweimal der falschen Fährte. Zum einen ist es keine Wand, sondern ein Pfeiler oder so, vielleicht zur Stütze eines Dachs. Man sieht es am Boden, und man sieht es daran, dass hinter Gretas Oberkörper ein schwacher Lichtschein an der Wand zu sehen ist. Das kleine Teilstück ganz vorne, in dem auch der angeschlagene Ziegel sitzt, ist leicht seitlich verschoben/gebrochen. Möglicherweise sehen wir hier einen reparierten/schon mal ersetzten Pfeiler? – Oder jedenfalls deute ich das, was ich sehe, so.
    – Ich denke, du liegst falsch mit der Beleuchtung. Der Schatten zu Chops Füßen spricht jedenfalls dafür, dass die Haupt-Lichtquelle nicht hinter, sondern ganz leicht *vor* den fotografierten Personen war.

    Also, ich sehe schon: Der Film MUSS bald rauskommen! – Wie sollen wir sonst diese Sache zweifelsfrei klären können?! *seufz*
    Ich glaube, wir müssen eine Petition starten, im Namen der streng wissenschaftlichen Bildinterpretation. 😀

    PS: Übrigens ist es auch sehr interessant, Greta ganz vom Bild zu verbannen und nur Chop und Urban zu betrachten. Die Wirkung ist wieder völlig anders. 🙂

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    • Hehe, war mir schon klar, dass alle nur auf die endlosen Beine gucken, nicht auf den Rest der Personen. War mir im Laufe der Auseinandersetzung zwar auch so gegangen, aber kann man ja leider bei einer Bildbetrachtung nicht ausschließlich in der Analyse verarbeiten.
      Interessante Interpretation von Gretas Haltung als potentielles Mordopfer. Da sieht man mal wieder: Ich gucke zu wenig Horror. (Dürfte ja bald gefüllt werden, angesichts von Hannibal…)
      Zum Pfeiler – jou, das könnte sein, dass es ein Pfeiler ist und keine Wand. Obwohl sich das dann nicht mit der Haltung der beiden Personen deckt – Greta lehnt eindeutig an etwas, was ein Stück hinter dem “helleren” Pfeiler steht, ebenso Chop. (Es sei denn der Pfeiler ist nicht quadratisch.)
      Bei der Beleuchtung weiche ich nicht von meiner Meinung *ggg*. Dass die Lichtquelle nicht von vorne kommen kann, sieht man an den Schatten, die die der Mantel auf Chops Körper wirft. Sie ist oberhalb rechts, evtl. allerdings seitlicher als ich dachte.
      Übrigens, selbst wenn der Film bald herauskommt, klärt sich das wahrscheinlich nicht – kann gut sein, dass dieses Film Still gar nicht so als Szene im Film vorkommt, sondern einfach nur so zusammengestellt wurde.

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      • Also diese Szene finden wir im Leben nicht im Film. Da würde ich doch glatt meinen RA-Mitgliedschaft drauf verwetten 😛 Promo, sonst nix. Und ja, diese Wand. Ich neige auch dazu, sie für real zu halten. Vielleicht haben die die Fugen vor dem Dreh nochmal nachgezogen, sodaß dieser geshoppte Eindruck entsteht. Ach, egal. Die Gesamtkomposition stimmt. Und mein Mutterherz seufzt bei der Betrachtung dieser synchronen Beinhaltung der beiden Jungs. *schmelz*

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      • Ich habe nicht gesagt, dass die Lichtquelle von vorne kommt, sondern ganz leicht nach vorne, nicht nach hinten versetzt. Das passt durchaus noch zum Schattenwurf vom Mantel.

        Ist aber auch nicht sooo wichtig, oder? 😉

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        • Hehe, genau das habe ich ja auch gesagt in meinem Text – “top right, slightly behind”. Dann sind wir uns ja wenigstens dabei einig. Ich bleibe dabei, dass das Licht von da aus dann auch nicht auf die Vorderseite des Mauerstücks scheinen kann, aber du musst mir das nicht glauben.

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    • I suppose, the more subjects in a picture, the more meat for analysis. The other pictures were of Chop alone, and of Chop and Urban, so we are getting to see more here. (And logically thinking, what’s next? A picture of four people? 😀 ) Thanks, austoz x

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  4. Great insight, once again! Thanks to your expertise, I now know why I prefer the full/rectangular version of the photo than the cropped/square one that I’ve also seen earlier making the rounds on Tumblr. I thought I’d prefer the cropped version because I get to see RA up close, but I definitely prefer the wide shot and everything it evokes.

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    • Oh, is a square version making the rounds? Probably from Anna Friel’s instagram (because instagram automatically crops pictures into squares). While the format of a square is superficially more pleasing because of its symmetry of format, it really has an impact on the meaning of the image. The photographer intended the image to be rectangular, though, and I think that was a good call. Works better on me, too.

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  5. The point you make when you crop the picture is especially interesting to me. How such a ‘small’ thing can so very much change how we see a picture! Great read this, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is really surprising to see how message/meaning/look and feel of an image change with a simple crop. Goes to show that there is more in a picture than just the obvious. And to me it feels like detective work, figuring out why an image feels the way it does. Great fun.
      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I played with possible titles for aaaages until this one came to me… (I wish I was as good at coming up with titles when writing for work…)
      Re. the cropping or “Crop the Chop” – an interesting experiment indeed, and something that I do everytime I postproduce my own images. Amazing differences.

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  6. Tolle Interpretation, danke!
    Aber ich stimmt Igelchen zu, ich finde Greta sieht aus als ob sie von etwas getrieben wird, als ob sie Angst hat. Sie hat für mich eindeutig keine positiven Gefühle für den Mann auf der anderen Seite der Wand (tausche gerne!)
    Urban sieht genervt aus, als ob er gleich sagt ihr könnt mich mal und lasst mich mit Eurem Erwachsenenkram in Ruhe, ich kenne den Blick von meinen Jungs, wenn ihnen was auf den Keks geht.
    Und Chop? Müde, resigniert, als ob er etwas versucht hat und dann aufgegeben, einfach nur erschöpft. In dem Bild steckt viel von der Geschichte. Der Versuch einer Liebesgeschichte, die keine war und/oder keine geworden ist.
    Muss das Buch doch glatt nochmal lesen, hatte Greta nur als Bettgeschichte in Erinnerung bei der er wegen den kids hängen geblieben ist 🙂

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    • Stimmt, Greta guckt gehetzt. Bei Chop kann ich es nicht genau sagen – sein Gesicht ist einfach zu wenig zu sehen. Ich denke mal, wir interpretieren hier auf der Basis dessen, was wir noch vom Buch erinnern.
      Und ja, mehr als eine Bettgeschichte war das auch irgendwie nicht.

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  7. Great job, Guylty, and I totally admire your *discipline* in tearing your eyes away from Chop’s “charms” long enough to dissect and analyze this image properly! I loved the part where you demonstrated how crucial the empty space in the rectangular photo is to the overall feeling of the photo. And I, too became predictably mushy as well as hot and bothered by the image.

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  8. i love how you describe what I am seeing and feeling. The rectangle appealed to me far more than the square. Now I know why 🙂 The brick in the middle looked fake to me right away and somewhat detracted from the whole picture for me. I’d be interested in finding out if it was a fake wall built for the set or an addition made by the photographer. Great *ooof* as always! Thanks.

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  9. I like the poignancy of this picture. How hard it must be for someone who is emerging into the light to leave another behind because that person is incapable (or simply refuses) to move out of the shadows.

    I REALLY wish they would release this film.

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  10. Late as usual, but i actually read it on the day 🙂 RL got in the way at weekend, as too often and today too.
    I love your thoughts on this and all the details and i know i’ll keep coming back to them as well as the photo, It is on of my very favourites already. For the beautiful symmetry and contrast or how masterfully all those diagonals and lines are creates with bodies and shadows and architecture. Makes me wonder how long the photographer planned it and how well he set it out and how was spontaneous… Just makes me curious about the how and why 🙂
    How much of what we see and feel was in Morrison’s plan and how much is our eyes? I haven’t read the book yet, but will do so during this summer as things slow down minimally, thankfully. But i get a lot of those same feelings, maybe because i know enough of the background story?
    Also, having worked in construction for a while i am very much inclined to agree with you, this probably didn’t start as one image 🙂 Mainly because the left and right are very unlikely the same building. The right is classic brick the left is cement prefab covered in cement mix whitewash, very very unlikely to be part of the same building, or the same building level. But they very cleverly found similar size brick which is good as it add the symmetry, it would have been screwed up were the left side made of bigger blocks which is more common with those materials. What puzzles me is the bit around Chop’s head which seems a continuation of the left hand side stuff but really isn’t, as below his shoulder there is no shred of white. I am very much inclined to think the left hand side wall has been added in or modified, with her added in after that? But however they composed the image i like very much what they have done with it,
    For the same silly reasons i would almost prefer exactly the same but without her 😉 I’d put that up my wall ;-))) But it works best just like this. And i love how with very few looks and body positions we get some much emotion across, because basically nobody looks directly at us. I wish we had a higher res one so we could see the faces clearer, but it makes me think a lot. There is certainly a feeling of anxiety and unrest from her, and a feeling of sadness or partial defeat or melancholy from him but as it moves across to his hand and the boy you get a feeling of comfort and shelter.
    Really beautiful and just makes me want to see the film even more 🙂
    Thanks for taking the time to write this all down 🙂
    And i think since i’m mad busy today i will stay away from the new trailer for H, i just can’t deal with that in the same day as this, i’ve seen images but they make me to anxious to see the whole. I know i won’t be able to ignore it but i’ll hang on to peace of mind for one day more 🙂 x

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