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Sunday, 30 September 2012


I agree. Photography is (mostly) about selection. He just selected from what, as you point out, is a simultaneously wider, and yet narrower compass.

"You might have heard it said that half of America is in a depression, but that nobody cares because it's only the bottom half."

OK Mike, who said that besides you? Google only shows TOP. (Is that the first one hit google search ever?) IAC, it's a good line and I like to give proper credit.

Well, if it *is* just me, then I'll reword the post to take more credit for it. Fixed now, and thanks.


Google's Street View is well on its way to covering the world. I recently saw pictures of a bicycle-mounted streetview camera rig working its way down the main path of a Tibetan village reached by no paved roads whatsoever. Another flow that will eventual drown it out is crowd-sourcing of all the pictures taken by all the camera-phones of all the people at a memorable event, such as Tahrir Square a little over a year ago, in the Arab spring. News agencies (my source on this is Gilles Peress) are working hard to figure out how to capture, digest, and then present a meaningful experience from all this raw material. If this can be done, then less memorable events in less exotic places will also be fair game. Crowd-sourcing has the advantage that it takes you not where the streets are but where the people are, indoors as well as outdoors.

But the ways in which this virtual world is being brought to our attention is so one-sided and retro! We imagine setting Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Gary Winogrand loose in cyberspace so that they can return with more of their practiced 11x14 silver prints, or even fill up Flickr galleries with rectangles carved from it. If these gentlemen, or their survivors like Danny Lyon, Joel Meyerowitz or Tod Papageorge are out roaming the virtual worlds today, I would hope that they could crystallize the pixel-rich experience of immersion in that world, with the ability to turn in all directions and see more things. Maybe what they will bring back is like the Portkey from the Potter lore, instantly transporting you to a place where very different, scary, engrossing things are going to happen if you can bear to look at them straight on. But this will more likely be done by people we've never heard of, to whom this way of looking at things is perfectly obvious, and worship of the finished print is not.

I made a recent visit to Google Earth, after Ctein published his address in Daly City and recommended the view from down the street. He's right, it is very nice. I wanted to knock on his door and chat, but it was then the middle of the night PST, so I backed away in the Google truck, but made an embarrassing mess of it, carving tracks in several lawns and knocking over his neighbor's garbage cans. Not the experience I was looking for.


Why does Google use such a poor camera?

Somewhat related, have you seen Paolo Cirio's "Street Ghosts" project? He makes life-size prints of the people that appear in Streetview scenes and then literally pastes the print into the real-life location. The result is that he essentially recreates Streetview in the real world:


Good News, thanks for letting us know.

I had several chances to buy the White Press Edition in their bookstore here in Cologne, which has recently closed unfortunately.

But the price was a bit steep for me since the work, while undoubtedly interesting, did not really grip me completely. I really should have gotten it anyway, just for investment purposes of course. It was already clear that the book will sell out quickly as it was already on top of several “Photobook of the year” lists at the time.

Oh well. I am looking forward to get the “unwashed masses” edition now.

Hmmm. First, yes, Rickard should give credit as "photographs by Google, editing by Rickard". I haven't seen the book, so my comments are limited. From the example shown, there are likely some good images in the book. They stand (or fall) by themselves, regardless of the source. Perhaps this should be compared to "found art" where the artist uses objects found in dumps, junkyards, on the street, or wherever, to create an art object. They didn't create the object, but by how they use and/or modify it (editing?) create the art object. Good or bad.That it may have a political wiewpoint is also nothing new, especially in this radically politicized time and country (United States). If, as Ken Tanaka states, this is intended primarily as a money maker, well, that isn't exactly strange in the art and literature worlds. Nor is it a basis for evaluating the quality of the product. So, lets keep our cool, and judge the work on its own merits, absent the political and financial add-ons. They may have some relevance, but are secondary to the work itself.

A few points

1. Rickard photographed screenshots with a large format camera. So he did take some photographs of other images. Or rather he rephotographed the images in a manner similar to Richard Prince. Otherwise this would be clear copyright infringement.

2. Rickard takes credit for the images in the same way Richard Prince does. Subverting the underlying paradigm, etc, etc. Note that Rickard was a sociology professor before he became an artist.

3. See this


Rickard has subverted the road trip photo essay genre in particular, and photography in general, by collecting and re-photographing Google Street View images from down-at-the-heels locales across the country.

Because there are people in many of the views, the work brings up some serious questions about the benign intention of the program as claimed by Google. The picture quality, not so good to start out with, is further degraded by being re-photographed, using a large-format camera, off a large-scale monitor. There should be nothing notable about these pictures as photographs, but they are mesmerizing and troubling. Selections from A New American Picture by Doug Rickard can be seen in the upcoming New Photography 2011 show, opening September 28h at MoMA.

Ah, it's all in the large format camera he used.

4. The real issue, as usual, is copyright. IANAL but I do pay attention to copyright law (because some of it is non-obvious).

The copyright status of images taken by a machine (or an animal!) at "random" is that they CANNOT be copyrighted as they're "non-creative works". A "threshold of originality" is required to be a creative work usually involving some "sweat of the brow". Yeap, they're all terms of copyright law.

In this case I presume there is enough "sweat of the brow" from the human driving the car who inspects the photos and helps determines the route and I presume starts a burst and ends it for Google to claim copyright on these images. They mark the images that way: "Imagery ©2009 Google".

Rephotographing the images does not change the copyright.

So publication of these images is an apparent violation of Google's copyright if nothing else.

It's interesting that Aperture are publishing these. Do they have a contract for book publication that you have to sign saying you own rights to the photos? Otherwise there might be issues of secondary liability by "Contributory infringement".

He would claim "fair use" as a defense (as Prince did) in a copyright lawsuit but I suspect that won't go very far as he's SELLING the book. He's profiting from the violation.

In the end he has an artistic and political agenda and I rather suspect he'd like a Google lawsuit. There is no such thing as bad publicity. But I suspect Google won't do anything either.

He's not the first to do this either (see the Google Street View article in Wikipedia for details).

@Ed Hawco, a timely link for me I saw that guy's work in-situ in Berlin, assumed it was a google image but couldn't find it on the net, so it's great to have it confirmed!

"You might have heard it said that America is in a recession, but I think it's a depression—but it only affects half the country, and nobody cares because it's only the bottom half."

Lovely. I really like the idea of photography as document and as conscience. I might well be buying this book.

You can certainly argue that Mr. Rickard is editor rather than photographer in this instance, and that this is but another alternative to get people to actually look at and acknowledge these realities, as opposed to more traditional photojournalism. It's both twice removed- and, in your face.

Curious that many who would condemn Mr. Rickard for not creating these images, would condemn many of those pictured for being the sole creators of their circumstance.

The first photo looks like something LS Lowry would have made if he ever went to Detroit.

Now there's a project someone could tackle: Images from Streetview that resemble the work of famous artists. (c)2012 Nathan deGargoyle

My favorite thought experiment along these lines goes as follows:

Suppose someone put together an extremely realistic model of some city, let's say Detroit. Perhaps it's for a video game. Robots or whatever have photographed the city minutely, and a 3D model had been built. Now suppose an iPad app is available which lets you "walk around" in this model, and lets you select time of day and things like "cloudy" versus "sunny" and so on. (This is borderline technologically feasible now, possibly it will be trivial in 10 years.)

Now suppose that you can walk anywhere, look at anything in "Detroit" -- and draw rectangles on whatever you "see" in "Detroit". The iPad app will then, using some cloud computing whah-foo, render you a high resolution, extremely accurate, JPEG file of whatever frame you have selected.

How does this differ from photography?

Rickard's game with Street View is similar, it's not all the way there, but it's interestingly close.

Technology is rendering the line between photography and editing somewhat vague, in a couple of dimensions (e.g. Lytro cameras let us focus during the editing phase). Selecting the best 5 images from a set is editing, for sure. Selecting the best 5 images from some guy's flickr stream probably is as well. What about selecting images from all of flickr? What about selecting images from all of the billions of images web-accessible? A substantial fraction of all that is seeable is represented in this collection, after all. Why should pressing the button be the magical thing that imbues "photographness" or "my photograph" to the image?

What happens when everyone has a 24x7 HD Video feed, streamed live to the web? Can't we consider them pretty much just willful remote cameras?

This completely avoids legal issues, of course. I don't care about Rickard's abuse of copyright, if any, here. I don't even care if his work in any good. The idea is interesting.

@ Richard Tugwell: "Photography is (mostly) about selection. " Only if we want to play with words and phrases. Photography is about making the same choices it required since its creation: where to put the camera and when to press the button. Editing and curating are also about "selection". So are grocery shopping and dating. But they've nothing in common with photography.

@ Kevin Purcell: No, actually the core issue here is not really about copyright, at least it isn't for me. The ickiness, at least for me, is with regard to presentation context and style.

Rickard has done an excellent job of gathering and curating images that present a specific point of view. It's interesting to browse.

But he's now represented as an "artist" at some major galleries who are looking to make some real money on this collection. (Contact Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco to get a quote.) He's got prints (prepped and made by...who?) into MFA Houston, MoMA, Yale Gallery, etc.

And now Mike has highlighted the work here.

I guess at my age I just need to stop farting in the wind, grow up, and learn to admire unaccomplished celebrity like the rest of the world seems to be doing. It sure is a much cheaper, easier and convenient path to fame and wealth than actually learning to use a camera and visiting all those icky places, eh? Whatever gets ya in the bank (and keeps you from living in the featured 'hoods, baby!).

Well ta-ta for now. I'm off to Flickr! Watch for my new site, "The Online Appropriator".

Mike, Your baker analogy doesn't work. The baker has to mix other ingredients with the flour, raise it, knead it and bake it. This guy just selected (curated in current art speak, a term I'm coming more and more to hate) a bunch of snapshots taken by a robot. Some or all of them may be interesting to our voyeuristic society but that does not, in my book, make him either a photographer or an artist. He's an opportunist entrepreneur, not that different from one who speculates in commodities.

I find it interesting that you make economic inequality so prominent in a post lauding a white guy who uses his expensive gear and contacts in the art oligarchy to make millions from photographs of places he doesn't dare to actually go.

I like the Siskel and Ebert format of this post.

Given that Ken has raised the concept of intention with respect to these photographs, I will second his position from that of a slightly different perspective.

This year is the John Cage centennial. If these prints were Cagean, Rickard would have elected to give up artistic control himself. As I see it, he's appropriated and selectively edited the work of others who made the choice to give up creative control of certain elements of the work. And to me it feels like a betrayal of the creative act, not a worthwhile creative act in itself.

So I guess I'm not on board with the prints.

Mike, I think you will find this little automated device interesting too :
it will certainly open similar questions and/or editing processes.


I am firmly in the Ken Tanaka mid set. I find it unethical and appalling that someone would reproduce some work and call it their own and sell it as original art.

Mike, I think that you should promote this book, http://www.photographercat.com/book/, as an original idea and beautiful pictures.

I have no problem at all with Cooper the photographer. Whether I find the pictures interesting would be what would concern me more.


Dear folks,

I think I come at this with a bit of an advantage in that I have (A) seen a selection of the original prints, not their diminutive reproductions and (B) seen them at Pier 24 with Richard Anderson, so I was not subject to any of the offputting posing/posturing, extensive back story, and so on. I just got to look at the photographs.

The ones that work, I thought worked very well. When viewed from a distance, one sees large-scale, interesting compositions. As you get drawn into those compositions and try to look more deeply, you discover that “there is no there, there.” There is no detail to them; the buildings and the people are a kind of blurry and interchangeable set of generic urban blocks. The character that exists is from the assemblage; the individual elements are forgettable.

It's an idea that's been explored a lot in photographs of modern society, about the whole cookie-cutter nature of twentieth century life. What makes this work different is that here the message is conveyed via the form of the medium rather than the subject content.

Unfortunately, most of that, probably all of that, is going to get lost in small, book sized reproductions. I haven't seen the book, so maybe it holds up better than I think, but I fear that all the reader will be left with is the superficial conceit.

That said, my big problem with the work is that it is INSUFFICIENTLY edited. I thought only about a third of the pieces I saw worked; the remaining two thirds were banal cityscape compositions that truly didn't draw the viewer in any better than some random snapshot. My gut feeling is that Doug Is one of those cases of an artist who is too enamored of his Project to be able to successfully winnow down the individual pieces to the very strongest ones.

As to whether or not this is Art, I personally don't see much difference between wandering through a seamless virtual landscape and grabbing photographs and wandering through a real one and grabbing photographs. One might argue that in the real world, one has the choice of position and focal length and other ways of personally altering the composition, but what about someone like Gary Winograd who just wandered down the street with a single-lens camera and grabbed frames, click click click click click? Is that more purposeful art than this? Sure a human being pushed Gary's shutter, but so far as I can tell, Gary's reputation lies in the editing; a truly miniscule fraction of his photographs are keepers. One may imagine, and certainly many do, that there was some innate artistic spark that ensured that the 1 in 1000 would be a keeper, but that's assumption (or unprovable wishful thinking, depending upon how skeptical you are). There is certainly no tangible or objective way to prove that, you either believe it axiomatically or you don't.

Now it should be understood that I am not a big fan of Gary's work, but that's the distinction between Good Art and Bad Art. I do consider his efforts Artistic and I don't think Doug's are any less. I just don't think they're entirely successful.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I think Rickard's project is interesting, and a new take, and that's good enough for me. It's disappointing to see that much of the criticism of it is pointless personal attacks and suppositions such as ... he's a white guy ... he's only in it for the fame and money ... using his art world contacts to get ahead, etc.

I think a lot of people are missing the point of Mr. Rickard's exercise, and it's not all that different than the intro photo class exercise of going out and blindly pressing the shutter, only to see what results, and what succeeds. Yes, you can make the point that You pressed the shutter in the latter- you could also argue that you had less control in the composition. They're both simply a way of having us look anew...

New technology presents new opportunities- it's an artist's duty to explore, investigate, present and challenge. Mr. Rickard has created intriguing images from random imagery. Unlike Prince, he has not just appropriated the same image for a different purpose.

"Traditional" photographers need not worry, although at least two other photographers have used similar processes using Google Street (one using images taken on the outskirts of Rome, the other in Paris)- it has a limited shelf life, just like the large format, shallow depth of field look. They are short blips that give us the chance to refresh and rethink our acquaintance with a medium we sometimes get too well adjusted to.

And it should also not go without mention that these high tech, visually arresting images were made with pixel counts that precede the 21st century. Another reason this clever experiment succeeds- it turns on its head the notion (ie- excuse) that not having that new 50 megapixel camera is why we're not getting the great pictures we just know we could achieve.

Ctein- No major objections, but what you said about Rickard's INSUFFICIENT edit- I think you could also say about each and every one of Friedlander's projects.

@Ken Tanaka

" Only if we want to play with words and phrases. ". Of course I meant after you had already decided that taking/capturing/making a photograph was what you were up to. To me what makes Rickard's project viable (I'm not applauding it or saying I like it) is that Google Street View is an interesting proxy for real life. Again, I'm not saying that's a situation which adds to the wealth of human experience, but it does expose some interesting questions.

I guess he must have upsized the images to get them to print in a book; so some of the appearance of the images is due to the upsizing.

Did he personally take the photos, and does it matter? I don't think it does. He had an electronic viewfinder looking out onto the world and he framed from within what he saw.

I think that the act of framing is more or less what a photographer does.

The thing that bothers me has nothing to do with this photographer - it is the growing use of EVFs.

I can see the time when people will hoard the cameras that have real optical viewfinders so that they can look out on the real world without the interference of an EVF.

Editing is probably the most important, yet ignored skill in photography. Just like editing a movie is an art in and of itself, editing of photography should be treated as on as well.

This project however isn't very original though. John Rafman among others have been doing this thing for years http://9-eyes.com/. It does however raise questions about photography in the age of digital cameras and the Internet. Were does this never ending torrent of digital images take photography as an artform?

I would have thought Rickard's book title would be "edited by" rather than just "by." He can claim to have selected the photos. As for selling large prints at high prices, I suppose if he has found a public wants to pay those prices for posters or copies, he's with P.T. Barnum.

A million monkeys with a million typewriters...that's about where I am with this. Lame.

Thanks Mike for the pointer (and the link to the Guardian article). Like you I too feel this work has artistic merit, if only because it raises serious questions about the nature and role of the witness, especially when viewed in the historical context of photography and the modern role of topography/surveillance. There is also a certain romance and dystopic irony in the idea of the little car trundling down lonely streets, meticulously and indiscriminately recording backyard after dreary backyard, and occasionally (as revealed by Rickard/Wolf/Rafman's curation) capturing an aesthetically pleasing picture purely by accident. I have no doubt Rickard is an artist and an interesting one. Whether he should be called a photographer or not is irrelevant, and this is an entirely different type of appropriation from that of Richard Prince (whom I don't like). I've ordered my copy (I hope I managed to do it through your link) and am looking forward to it.

One observation: for identity protection, Google automatically tries to blur out all recognizable faces in the images. This lends a certain poignancy to photos of a dehumanized, anonymous, forgotten America.

Most of the criticism of this does not address the pictures at all, but is only directed at the method. It seems to me that once you consider the pictures, it is pretty clear that the method by which they were made actually contributes to their meaning rather than diminishes it.

On appropriation, I make a couple of points.
1. It's been around in the arts since at least Duchamp.
2. Every photo (maybe every work of descriptive art) is to some degree appropriation.


I've gotta update my comment after reading Tanaka's rebuttal on Rickard..

It was a bit unsettling to hear that the prints they're selling are being 'stressed' before being put on the sale block..ok, that's really cheesy and Im losing touch with Rickard.

I think Carlos L. Esguerra has it wrong. If he copies Adams, all aspects of artistic agency have already been performed for him (Richard Prince might dispute this). Adams has made the choice of image, and the world has "chosen/curated/edited" Adams from among the millions of other photographers. I don't think he appreciates quite how much data, mostly non-photogenic, there is in StreetView, and how much "sweat of the brow" (the near-exact virtual equivalent of wandering around a neighborhood looking for interesting things to shoot) is involved in finding the pictures Rickard and others have selected.

Sorry, Mr. Rickard's not for me. I think to be considered a photographer, one must take the time and effort--and the risks--to make the original image. Sitting on your butt, grabbing stuff off the Internet, tarting it up, and passing it of as "your" work does not qualify, in my opinion.

Does seem to point to a trend of laziness in the creative arts. Why bother to create an original image, when you can just "appropriate" stuff, change it a bit, and pass it off as your work?

It is far from unusual for artists to "contract out" the physical creation of artworks to unnamed artists working in a company or collective. Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst spring to mind.

The copyright is owned by the legal entity that had the idea and presented the work, not the person who made it under contract, in the same way that patents are not owned by employees.

I'm not sure how that applies here, just saying that it's not always so clear cut.

My take is that it's an interesting idea, but I don't know enough about the origin and commissioning of the work to actually comment on Rickard's integrity.

The end of the photographer as demiurge (the decisive moment) giving way to the photographer statistician. Emergence of a Bayesian photography if you want. There is no logical inconsistency here: So goes the art world, among others. We can also refer to the end of social romanticism whose the highest point was the FSA. It suffices to show the human condition as it is since of an ethical viewpoint it is no longer acceptable to glorify or sanctify it. This attitude has a name, respect. This paradigm shift that sees the power switch from subject to object should not be painful because it is inevitable and necessary.

(I try to transpose my idea, Mike, not to translate it. You do "as you like it".)

"Like you I too feel this work has artistic merit" (expiring_frog)

Can a machine ever produce art? Doesn't the production of art require intent?

@Ken: you wrote "Even the title of Rickards's book is fraudulent: A New American Picture Photographs by Doug Rickard. "Photographs by"? Rickard didn't take a single one of the photos."

Where did you get that title from? I took a look at the picture of the cover on Amazon. Under the cover picture, you have on the left "Doug Rickard" and on the right "A New American Picture", with lots of space between the two pieces of text. I don't see "Photography by" anywhere on the cover. Where did you see the title presented that way?

Best regards,

A bit late to the party but this kind of reminds me of an old post of mine which was inspired by Michael Light's "Full Moon." In that case, another human took the photos but Michael Light gets the artist credit for putting together the book.


In a bigger picture, we're moving more and more toward a world where "curating" or editing the massive archive of images we have will actually be the true skill.


Digital continues to change everything. Photography is basically no longer photography, even the cameras edit by default. A pure JPG, I don't think so. Welcome to the word of machine edits and cars that drive while you sit by. :) It's never been so easy and yet so far from human. :(

I think there may need to be a correction to Ken Tanaka's contribution. He states "Even the title of Rickards's book is fraudulent: A New American Picture Photographs by Doug Rickard." and then questions the use of "photographs by". I have seen images of the cover and the title page - the words "photographs by" are simply not there. There is the title and Rickard's name. That's all. Ken has created (or picked up) a straw man and proceeded to give it a good kicking.

@David Paterson:

"Can a machine ever produce art? Doesn't the production of art require intent?"

Let's assume that it does (cleverer people than I can debate that issue). Under that assumption, I agree the StreetView camera is NOT producing art, and neither are the folks at Google, who presumably did not foresee the use of the images as art. However, Rickard (or Wolf, or Rafman) is, by trawling the virtual streets of StreetView in search of the elusive "decisive moment". In many respects, Rickard is exactly similar to the classical roving street photographer. What the machine has done is to infinitely delay the act of artistic choice in choosing where to stand, where to point the camera etc. By indiscriminately presenting every viewpoint, just like the real world, it has not (to a first approximation) reduced the burden on the photographer except insofar as the hair-trigger response time of a Cartier-Bresson or the balls of a Bruce Davidson are no longer required.

Now, you could reasonably argue that these differences makes all the difference -- street photography is about capturing the moment *in* the moment with all the associated risks. But provoking the question of authorship and the role of the mechanistic agent is the *whole point* of this work. It justifies its existence as art (even if it is not "photography", at least by Rickard). At some level the beauty of the images isn't even important (though I do think several of the ones online are rather good).

You really have to go into StreetView to appreciate that it is NOT the same sort of source as a single copyable work of art (cf. Prince, whom I do NOT support) or a collection of human-generated photos where some artistic intent has already been expressed by the original photographers. Andrew Molitor brought up the parallel of a "photographer" in a 3D virtual replica of Detroit. It is an interesting analogy, but here there is the added significance of the virtual world being something more than a replica, it really is our world, an exhaustive visual record of it at a (geographically varying) instant in time. This very exhaustivity makes Rickard's search for what *he* sees as needles in the vast haystack an act of artistic intent.

After all, as Mike observes in his latest essay, what is so sacrosanct about the act of pushing a button? It may define what we commonly accept to be "photography", but that semantic boundary hardly stops this being art. Indeed, it is an artistic critique of "art".

Whether it is good or bad art is a different matter, and a second such book will very likely be quite boring since the first has already stated the case.

@ Adamct: The Aperture site. Indeed, the book's cover does not make this claim.

Can I be quite frank here? What Rickard is doing is garbage. Imagine if Garry Winogrand had dumped some of his prints onto a table and said to his students, "Help yourselves". If one of them had scooped up an armful and made them into a book, would that have been legitimate?

Mike's analogy about the baker and the bread isn't quite right. Rickard's role is more like that of someone picking up a loaf in the bread section at Walmart. This kind of thing really damages photography in the longer term. If the public are led to believe that this kind of action constitutes photography, what does that say about the guys out there in the field actually doing the work instead of just cashing in?

Having said that, whoever gives Rickard money for his "work" deserves to be taken for every penny.

I had the opportunity to page through this book at a recent book fair. While I am completely supportive of the concept itself, and have no issue with the claim of authorship, I have to say that I was a little let down by Rickard's choice of what to present. That is, the subject-matter itself felt pretty tired - standard images of poverty, decrepitude, entropy. It's as if someone had invented a completely new musical instrument but decided only to perform Hanon's exercises on it.

I much prefer, as was linked to above, 9-eyes, which to me is a much more exciting and novel way to explore the possibilities opened up by Google Street View than Rickard's book. That is, those photographs seem to be ones that nobody, prior to the arrival of Google Street View, would have been able to make, or even had contemplated the idea of making.

With all the comments pro, con, and mixed, I find it interesting that my two favorite "go to" photography sites are TOP and ASX, which is under the auspices of Mr. Rickard. Perhaps this is diversion from the topic at hand. However, this is one area where he has created a valuable space, that provides me with hours of inspiration, insight. and envy. I'm guessing that most people reading this are familiar with the site. Just felt the need to interject.


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