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Becky Harlan March 29, 2015

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Iceland.
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A family soaks in the hot tub at a pool in Fludir. Reykjavik, Iceland 2012 

Becky Harlan (b.1988, United States) is a documentary photographer, multimedia producer, and photo editor based in Washington, D.C. She has a BA in Art History from Furman University and a Masters in New Media Photojournalism from the Corcoran College of Art + Design, Her work has appeared in the New York Times, NPR, The Morning News, and on National Geographic’s photography blog, Proof. She has been recognized by Fotoweek DC, and PDN. She currently works as a photo editor for the digital side of National Geographic magazine.

About the Photograph:

“Icelanders love soaking in the geothermally-heated pools and tubs. Every town I visited during my stay had a public space for doing so. The air is brisk, the scenery beautiful, and the geothermal energy is flowing. This photo came out of a workshop I was taking in Reykjavik. I spent my days there wandering around small towns in the south talking to whomever I met and asking them to point me in the direction of someone or something interesting. I came upon this moment at a public pool in the  tiny town of Fludir, after a morning spent visiting a greenhouse and the home of a woman who had a makeshift doll museum in her garage. The pool staff let me in for free since I wasn’t swimming, but I had neglected to take off my sandals, which was against protocol. So after a kind but firm correction I was feeling a bit self conscious as I began looking around at what I might photograph. The bulldozer peeking over the fence instantly brought me back to the moment, and after gesturing to the family in the hot tub for permission to shoot, I stepped back, hunkered down, and went to town, hoping that they would forget my presence. I probably shot 20 frames, but this was my favorite because of the reclined and almost sculptural posture of the boy. He seems so delicate and kind of absorbed in his own world. I like the quirky contrast between him and the industrial work going on behind the fence.”

Tim Matsu March 25, 2015

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Thailand.
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Chiang Mai, Thailand 2007

Tim Matsui (b.1973, USA) is an Emmy-nominated visual journalist and filmmaker focusing on human trafficking, alternative energy, and the environment. Tim’s clients have included Newsweek, Stern, Der Spiegel, GEO, Wired and other domestic and international publications. Tim partners with editorial outlets, non profit organizations and corporations to tell meaningful stories built upon the tenets of journalism. He has received grants from the Alexia Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Fledgling Fund, and The Fund for Investigative Journalism.  His most recent project is the feature documentary film The Long Night (which recently won the POYi and the first prize for Long Feature of the World Press Photo Multimedia Contest) and the accompanying audience engagement project Leaving the Life.

About the Photograph:

“Young women, mostly in their teens, hire a transgender make up artist to prepare them for an evening serving drinks at a karaoke bar in Chiang Mai, Thailand. If a client wants to date the server they’re permitted to leave the establishment after paying a bar fee. I’d met the make up artist through a Thai non profit that’s a resource for the transgender community. Because of that she vouched for me, while I had some restrictions. The bar owners were ok with my presence. All of the legwork to get to that place to make the picture involved most of the work but the actual photography was pretty straight forward. Strangely enough, one of the more challenging parts was meeting my expat friends afterwards for drinks. They were gossiping about who was with who and catching up on weekend plans, but my head was still where I’d just been.”

Laurence Butet-Roch March 23, 2015

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Canada.
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Taken at the Beef Festival in Inverness, Quebec Canada 2014

Laurence Butet-Roch  (b.1985, Canada) is a freelance writer, photo editor and photographer. She was introduced to the media world through a Quebec tv show, “Scoop”, a fictitious foray into the dramas of a Montreal newsroom. After completing a B.A. in International Relations at the University of British Columbia, she pursued photography at the School of Photographic Arts: Ottawa. Upon graduating, she moved to France, where she started working as a photo editor and journalist for Polka Magazine. After four years, she chose to return to Canada and, while continuing her work for Polka, now contributes articles to other publications such as the British Journal of Photography, BlackFlash, Exposure, TIME Lightbox and the New York Times Lens blog. She is a member of the Boreal collective.

 About the Photograph:

“Every year, the village of Inverness, home to 850 people in Quebec, hosts the “beef festival”. Once an agricultural fair, where animals were bought and sold, it became a rodeo in the 80s as a way to earn money to help pay for local services. It is still the case today. Residents of the village staff the fair voluntarily and the proceeds raised go to maintaining the library, elder’s home and school. Few villages this size in the province can say they have similar amenities.”

“The fest draws over 30.000 visitors, who install their large RVs on private and public properties for a week. The second biggest rodeo in Quebec, it attracts cowboys of all ages from as far as the southwestern American states. Upon meeting them, I was struck by their dedication. Most have a day job – often related to the cattle industry – and spend all their free time training, caring for their mounts and competing. The costs, both financially and physically, are high and the rewards, few. ‘It’s not work, but it’s not a hobby either. It’s a passion’, says Jason, a farrier by trade. In this, as a photographer, I felt a deep connection with them. Most competitions – mutton, busting, bareback and saddle bronco riding, bull riding, calf roping and steer wrestling – are held in the evening. In the bucking chute, riders are focused, tense and dignified. Once in the arena, there’s little room for error.”

Maysun March 19, 2015

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Syria.
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Missile attack in Saif Al Dawla district, Aleppo, Syria 2013

Maysun (b. 1980, Spain) has been covering political issues, social conflicts and natural disasters since 2005 She has freelanced for several NGO’s and national/international News Agencies such as EPA, AFP or ACN (Spain). Her work is distributed by Corbis. Her pictures have been published in TIME magazine, The New York Times, Lens Blog by NYT, National Geopraphic, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Stern, Focus magazine, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, ABC News, NBC News, Al Jazeera, El Pais, El Mundo, and CNN.

 About the Photograph:

“This photograph was taken in March 2013, in  the district of Saif Al Dawla, one of the neighborhoods  controlled by the FSA in Aleppo. I was trying to find Palestinians to continue my long term project To Exist is to Resist, about Palestinian identity around the world. After some months searching I found this Palestinian-Syrian woman, born in Aleppo but from Palestinian origins who was living alone with her three children in her half destroyed house. Her husband was living in a part of Aleppo controlled by the government. They didn’t see each other since the battle for Aleppo began years ago by then.”

“She was an elementary school teacher from a school in the neighborhood, but she couldn’t continue working since the war began. Her situation was very delicate because she wasn’t able to openly take any side. If she would have taken part for the rebels and renounced the government pension, she wouldn’t have a way to feed her children. If she had openly supported the regime, she might had been killed, as she was living in the rebel-controlled side. Aware of the situation, she was trying to keep a low profile. Despite the precarious situation of her house, half destroyed by regime strikes, and the requests to move anywhere else, from an FSA officer who helped and protected her, she preferred to stay where she was because it was her home and she had nowhere else to go.”


David Gardner March 16, 2015

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in United States.
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Nola and David in their Motor Home in Quartzite, Arizona 2014                     

David Gardner (b. 1954, USA) devides his time between San Francisco and a 26 foot motor home, pursuing his photographic interests across the continent. His interest in the landscape has evolved over the past 35 years. Originally photographing in a contemplative style free of human intervention, his emphasis shifted as the difficulty of isolating landscapes to fit that style has increased.  His recent project, Life on Wheels: The New American Nomads, received Photomedia Center’s 2013 Contemporary Image Makers micro-grant, and has shown at the Davis-Orton Gallery in New York, Griffin Museum of Photography in Massachusetts, and recently received the Best of Show award at LH Horton Gallery’s Documentary competition in Stockton, California.

About the Photograph:

“When I first began photographing people for Life on Wheels, I learned about a meeting place for RV’ers in the Arizona desert town of Quartzsite. Every year in January and February, the town, and surrounding BLM land, inflates from a normal population of  three thousand to over one million people. They come in motorhomes, toy haulers and trailers to enjoy the sun and warmth of the southern Arizona desert and meet up with friends and family. It seemed like the perfect way to begin the project.”

“Once there, I spent time group of Lazy Daze motorhome owners and met David and Nola. We set a time for sme to photograph them. When I arrived at their rig, we sat in their back lounge and talked about the lifestyle, and the sort of image I was after. Part of our conversation was about how long they intended to live the full-time RV lifestyle. David told me that when they first discussed the idea, they decided to give it five years and then reassess how they felt. Five years later, Nola misses her children and grandchildren and wants to stop traveling but David does not. While reviewing the twenty photographs I took of them, it was clear that the first image best expressed the dilemma they faced. Nola on the fringe, David in the middle, the kids adorning the walls and the great outdoors just on the other side of the window.”

Ben Brody March 12, 2015

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Afghanistan.
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Combat Outpost Ahmadkhan in Kandahar, Afghanistan 2013

Ben Brody (b. 1979, United States) is a documentary photographer who has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003, both as a soldier and as a civilian.  His work in Iraq was published in Photojournalists on War: The Untold Stories from Iraq, by Michael Kamber. His photo story Endgame: Afghanistan was recognized by the Leica Oskar Barnack Awards and Photolucida’s Critical Mass Awards in 2014.  Ben is based in Massachusetts and works primarily for GlobalPost and The Ground Truth Project.

About the Photograph:

“Lieutenant Nasrullah Sharif is a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, and is one of six officers in the entire country trained by the US to use modern bomb-detecting equipment.  I met Nas in 2013 at Kandahar’s Combat Outpost Ahmadkhan, a tiny American base in one of the most intractably violent areas of southern Afghanistan. With the draw down in full swing, US troops were not patrolling regularly from Ahmadkhan – they relied heavily on surveillance blimps like the one in the background, and Afghan forces like Nas to protect their base. Nas had invited me to walk to the nearby village with him for chai, and when I went to meet him, I came upon this scene exactly as you see it here. Nas had donned his bomb suit and laid out his equipment, as well as some Taliban bombs he dug up, and waited for me by the blimp. It was so much of what I wanted to show about the draw down in one frame – the blimps, the blast walls, the lone Afghan guy with his fragile, expensive toys, all to prevent the western retreat from becoming a rout, as the Soviet retreat from Kandahar was. I’ve been covering the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last ten years and endeavor to make images that speak to the fundamental truths about the conflict – the absurdity of a rudderless war, the alienation in the cultural upheaval on both sides, and the bankruptcy of counterinsurgency doctrine as a basis for the continued fight.”

Don Unrau March 9, 2015

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Vietnam.
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War Museum, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 2014

Don Unrau (b.1950, USA) studied fine art and photography at the University of Colorado. In 1984, using the documentary form and his interest in post war Vietnam narratives; he began work on War Story, a portrait series of Vietnam veterans. In 1989, he was chosen for an artist residency at Light Work, where he completed that series. Don traveled to Vietnam in 1992 to photograph for the first time since he was there as a soldier during the war. He has returned to Vietnam many times and in 2009 his photographs were self-published in the book, Spring Visits: Photographs From Vietnam. His other books are: Hanoi Street Work (2012), and The Revolutionary Moment (2013), comprised of portraits of revolutionary Viet Cong. Don has shown in galleries in the USA and in Vietnam. He continues work on personal projects, including a limited edition, handmade book of the War Story portraits.

About the Photograph:

“This photograph was made at the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. I prefer to work with an idea contained in a series, and these images are from The Art Of (War) Tourism. At some point during every visit to Vietnam, I feel compelled to go to one or more of the museums. During the Vietnam War, many countries around the world expressed their solidarity with Vietnam. From what I observed, the tourists are were happy to pose in front of the American hardware that was left behind. Often, parents coaxed their young children to pose in front of a tank or big gun. Maybe they want a small connection to the war and a souvenir photo taken by a friend or family member gives them a feeling of solidarity. Occasionally, I’ll have a conversation about where someone is from and so forth. Many of the visitors are from Vietnam, but also, thousands come from other countries in SE Asia, Japan, Australia, Europe and Russia. In this photo, the young woman is wearing the popular Good Morning, Vietnam shirt from the Robin Williams film of the same name. After posing for her friends, I asked to take this photo and she graciously obliged, making the universal peace sign.”

Kenneth Jarecke/ Dumb Photos for Dumb People March 7, 2015

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in United States.
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Copyright 2015 Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images

Dumb Photos for Dumb People

Suppose you’re the director of photography (DoP) at a big magazine or newspaper and suppose your budget has been slashed (but I repeat myself).

How do you keep publishing great images?

You can no longer afford to hire great photographers. If you could afford them, you’d still have to get them to sign a work-for-hire agreement, which the great ones won’t do. Well, a few of them will, but you need to properly compensate them, put them on staff, and float them a low interest loan on their upstate, weekend home. So that’s not happening, because remember, you’ve got no money. To make matters worse, the day-rate you offer freelance photographers hasn’t risen in 25 years. You can only keep them in the field for a minuscule amount of time, and you’ve still got to somehow grab their copyright.

What do you do?

Faced with this dilemma a few DoP’s and photo editors have hung up their loupes and walked away from the editorial market. An honorable decision to be sure, but what if you’re not ready to quit or you have a upstate, weekend home of your own to pay for?

You can struggle to find great photographers who are willing to work under these conditions and fail, or you can be clever and simply redefine the word “great”.

What other choice is there? Your job is to supply your publication withstellar work. In an industry that’s already decided that good enough is good enough, how do you justify your existence, your job? Except for your staff photographers, everybody’s pulling from the same tired sources, the same wires, picture agencies, and the same starving freelancers. How do you prove that your work is more stellar than everyone else’s?

One way is to win contests. Evidently winning these things are still important to publishers. Another way is to judge contests. Judging contests makes you an industry leader, a respected voice, a power player.

You’ll also need to find young photographers who’ve not yet learned their value. Promise them fame and riches, gallery shows, print sales, ad campaigns, whatever it takes. Don’t worry. When none of these things come to pass and the poor sucker realizes he needs to actually earn money from his editorial work, cast him off. Pretend you don’t know him. Don’t return his emails or phone calls and move on to the next ripe newbie. Have no fear, if one of these guys manages to survive and become a name just take credit for discovering him. Being a photographer he’ll believe you and be happy to work for you again.

Of course, this scheme doesn’t work if you’re bound by conventional standards. Very few photographers can produce meaningful work on a regular basis. It’s a rare gift, and technical advances haven’t increased the number of people who have this gift. Standards of excellence are a problem when you can’t afford to work with excellent people. Words like journalism, photojournalism, and reportage, are troublesome. Words like truth, well don’t even go there. That’s why a new word needed to be added to the mix. That word is art. Art like beauty is seen in the eye of the beholder. All beholders may be equal, but the professional Beholders who judge contests, and look at thousands of images a day are more equal than others. This is the magic that careers are built on, and this is the power that mystifies gullible photographers.

Copyright 2015 Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images

The DoP / photographer relationship was once symbiotic. I’ll give you money and access, you give me amazing photographs, we’ll publish them and everyone will see how brilliant we both are.

Now the relationship is one sided and abusive. Today the DoP’s (or their picture editors) pitch goes something like this, I’ll give you a little bit of money (or none), you’ll deliver exactly what I want and the pictures you make will belong to me. Take it or leave it, but know there are plenty of people queued up to take your place.

When you’re desperate for work and recognition that’s a mighty big stick to get whacked with. The corresponding carrot is the small voice whispering to the photographer saying, he chaired the World Press Photo awards. He’s an industry leader. He’s one of the Beholders.

This is why Powerball exists.

You ever hear the story about Levi’s and Walmart? Long story short… in order to reach Walmart’s price point Levi’s had to lower the quality of the jeans they sold there. So Levi’s revamped most of their production lines to meet Walmart’s standards and in doing so lessened the quality of all the jeans they produced regardless of where they were sold.

Mediocre forces good out of the market place and great all but disappears. In the case of Levi’s you give these jeans a special name, like “signature”. When it comes to photography you simply call it “art”.

This charade has worked fairly well over the past fifteen years or so. The DoP’s didn’t even have to sell it. The photographers who agreed to their terms did all the heavy lifting. They became industry leaders themselves. Part of the enlightened priesthood who preached that proper compensation, insurance, professional gear, and owning one’s work were outdated, hateful ideas that had no place in the 21st century.

Of course, smart people vote with their feet. They shop at the expensive boutique. They buy a different brand of jeans. The smart people who had a passion and proven track record of capturing our world in amazing pictures walked away too. The youngsters, most of the smart ones at least, walked away as well. It doesn’t take much to see the game is rigged and the editorial world is bleak.

Copyright 2015 Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images

How many future Jim Nachtweys have walked away before they’ve even dipped a toe in the pool?

The mystical Beholders, in practicing their craft, have effectively drained the pool. The quality of work they produce is largely what you’d expect to be pulled from the shallow, stagnant body of water which still remains.

You want to see some art? Look at Telex Iran by Gilles Peress. If you want to see some photojournalism look at the same book.

You want to see photojournalism? Look at 44 Days by David Burnett. If you want to see some art look at the same book.

Two photographers working at about the same time in the same place who both produced work that will last long after them. They told the truth. They were honest with the viewer. They didn’t stage any pictures or knowingly create any fictions. Both of these works are sought out today by museums and private collectors.

The work that Burnett and Peress produced was funded by publications that paid good money to use it. Their respective agencies licensed this work to hundreds of other publications in dozens of countries and they got a healthy percentage from each transaction (and still do today). None of these publications had the audacity to demand world-wide exclusivity or the right to resell this work. If they had there’s a good chance this work never would have been made in the first place.

Start with great photographs made by intelligent, passionate people and wait. That’s how photojournalism becomes art. Not through the self-serving incarnation made by a Beholder in a hushed tone usually reserved for a NPR host.

The World Press Photo Foundation can start to restore its tarnished reputation by severing it’s ties with the Beholders and their acolytes.

If an editor forces a WFH agreement on photographers they’re not our friends. They are helping to force the most talented among us out of the industry, thus dumbing it down. The World Press Photo Foundation should not justify their actions by allowing them to be a part of their competition.

Photographers who are dumb or desperate enough to sign WFH agreements should be scorned as well. If a photographer is foolish enough to willingly give away the ownership of their work (without proper compensation), the images they make aren’t going to give us much insight into what’s happening around the world. Dumb people normally don’t create lasting work, but they can push other more deserving and talented photographers out of the industry. They should not be rewarded with the recognition that comes with a World Press Photo award.

A Beholder who works for a multi-billion dollar company who’s existence depends on the willingness of photographers (both professional and amateur) to sign away their rights is also a bad choice. It’s just a matter of time before they snag you with their money.

Photography professors who fail to teach their students proper business practices should be excluded as well. Especially those who set a terrible example for their students by hiring themselves out to agencies that prey on the egos of desperate photographers.

World Press Photo, please stop letting people like this, people who are destroying our industry, and the craft of photojournalism use your (still) good name to legitimize their bad behavior.

March 5th Update

The leaders of World Press Photo just announced that based on new evidence, they have revoked the controversial First Place award given to Italian photographer Giovanni Troilo for his series of photographs entered in this year’s WPP Contemporary Issues Story category.

Kenneth Jarecke’s work can be seen here.

Just Another War by Exene Cervenka and Kenneth Jarecke.

Husker Game Day by Kenneth Jarecke.

Reflections on the 2015 World Press Photo Awards March 3, 2015

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Pakistan.
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Lahore, Pakistan 2013/ Geoffrey Hiller

As both a photographer and the editor of Verve Photo, I feel compelled to add my two cents to the current discussion centering on ‘manipulation’ by one of the World Press Photo (Contemporary Issues category) contest winners, Giovanini Troilo, who was accused of staging his photo essay.

First I’ll speak as a photographer in the field. This question of setting photographs up is a delicate one that I’ll bet all of us can relate to, and have seriously thought about in my own work. For example, there were times when I instinctively knew I had just missed THE SHOT, and I asked the subject in question to ‘just hold it’, or even to repeat a gesture. Reflecting on these situations, I felt as though I was cheating. Most of the time it’s pointless anyway because the genuine moment is gone, never to be repeated again.

As the editor of Verve Photo, I would like to share my editorial process with you. When I see work that strikes a chord in me, I initiate contact with the photographer. The first thing I do when considering anyone’s work is click on the link to his or her website. Even after twenty years of the web, there is a moment of anticipation and excitement while the page loads.

In order to be included on Verve Photo, a photographer must have four strong photo essays. Often it’s clear instantly if the work touches me. What counts is light, composition and moment, as well as intention and authenticity. Most important is the entire body of work, rather than one or two ‘lucky shots’.

Troilo’s images from Belgium titled The Dark Heart of Europe, as intriguing as they are, just don’t have authenticity for me. Even though the photographer got permission from his cousin who is engaging in sex, the situation is a bit too surreal.  As I write this more questions are being voiced about the stated location of the photographs.

What is included on Giovanini Troilo’s website is not photojournalism or documentary work. The Dark Heart of Europe is the only ‘story’ on his site. The rest of the work is illustration and portraiture. This isn’t a value judgement on his work, but if World Press Photo is about photojournalism, I’m confused why this work was ever considered at all for this contest?

March 5th Update

The leaders of World Press Photo just announced that based on new evidence, they have revoked the controversial First Place award given to Italian photographer Giovanni Troilo for his series of photographs entered in this year’s WPP Contemporary Issues Story category.

Nick Kozak March 2, 2015

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Kenya.
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In the village of Makina, an informal settlement of Kibera. Nairobi 2014

Nick Kozak (b.1982, Kuwait) is a freelance photojournalist whose current work is focused on the issues of community and identity. He is the acting Photo Editor for the award winning iPad magazine, Wondereur. Nick’s work has been supported by the Toronto Arts Council and exhibited in Canada, the United Kingdom, China, Poland, Bangladesh, and the United States. His editorial clients include the Toronto Star, Toronto Life, Report on Business Magazine, La Presse, The Grid, and Toronto Community News. He has had major commissioned projects with Facing History and Ourselves and the Atkinson Foundation, among others.

About the photograph:

“In this photograph from the village of Makina in the informal settlements of Kibera, a child stands near two men working; one is resurfacing a mud wall of a residential house, as the other looks on. The overwhelming majority of homes in Kibera are built of mud with corrugated tin roofs and a dirt or concrete floor. The work at this home involved digging up a little patch of land next to the house, mixing the earth with water, and applying it to the exterior walls. The work these men do is precarious and is usually secured by organizing together in groups. I would often run into groups of young men in the same areas standing or sitting, waiting, or performing some tasks. They would tell me they are hustling  which always meant they were either working or looking for work.”

“In 2013 I made my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa. Like many visitors to Kenya I was drawn to the informal settlements of Kibera (nearly half of Nairobi three million residents live in one of over sixty such neighbourhoods). Stepping into Kibera for the first time I was immediately fascinated by the ingenuity of its residents. Kiberans are masters at overcoming adversity through resourcefulness, creativity and by placing an unprecedented value on the role of community in individual survival. For a period of a month I spent almost every day in Kibera and connected with people through the Kibera Film School and I helped run mini workshops on photography. In 2014 I returned for a second month, in part thanks to a Toronto Arts Council Grant, which allowed me to further strengthen relationships. The conditions of poverty in Kibera prevent most Kiberans from attaining what people in developed countries would rate as acceptable standards of living but the disadvantages do not stop them. The energy, talent and ingenuity, of young people in Kibera, an environment that presents so many obstacles, especially inspires me.”

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