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Monday, 17 August 2009


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Very sad story in some respects, but the bottom line is that she will not starve to death and will always be able to make a living.

It is hard to feel sorry about her financial situation when you consider that her financial future is way brighter than mine, or just about any regular hardworking person's.

I have no debt and have always lived within my means. Even with her current debts, I would trade my financial future for hers in a second.

Ms. Leibovitz's financial predicament is sad. But ...

This is largely a self-inflicted situation. At 59 with a good-sized fortune of earnings history Leibovitz knows very well that she's a child with money. She also seems to be poor at engaging help with her shortcoming and, making matter worse, apparently tantrums like a child, too. That's a suicidal formula found throughout the entertainment biz, especially pro sports.

So although I am a compassionate person it's hard to for me to give a care about someone who has been so careless and arrogant with so many extraordinary gifts and opportunities.

I reserve my sympathies for people whose hard-won resources are being wiped out, despite prudent and mature stewardship and planning, due to circumstances completely beyond their control.

I have deep sympathy for the lady right now, but the life described in the article reads like a train journey with the brake lever removed. If she's serious about lasting as long as some of her peers, perhaps a few years of normality (ie, experiencing a mundane, watching-the-budget type of lifestyle) might actually be useful.

Artists traditionally do their best work when they're poor and hungry, so maybe it will be the best thing that could happen to her (unless it all went up her nose).

Sorry, can't do it- can't feel "sorry" for her. Way too many single moms and poor working families out there slaving their butts off 24/7 for what she makes in four minutes. And I'm supposed to feel for someone who buys an airplane ticket for her daughter's poop journal. Aint gonna happen.

Don't wish her ill, but she's dead last on the sympathy list. OK, not dead last--a couple of others are definitely behind her...

Indeed, this is an excellent article. A very sad story of a brilliant creative photographer who was never in control of her finances, and perhaps not her life, either.

The part about ordering a couple of blank journal books for $800 makes me wonder about her sanity.

By all rights she should pay the price for her poor judgment. Yet, by the end I was also hoping that somehow she'll be rescued, as unfair as that would be, especially in these times when so many others are really suffering.

What I get from this is that some people simply cannot be understood.


Ah, another entry in the Times continuing series...

Greek tragedy, Mike? What tragedy would that be? That she will almost certainly continue to live a more lavish lifestyle than 95% of the US population? After reading that article, I'm left asking, why I should care? I'd very much like to hear your answer to that question. I don't mean to be insulting here... I'm just not sure what exactly the point is here.

As a professional photographer, working around other professional photographers that produce work as good or better than Annie L., it is difficult to feel sorry for her when she expects $33,000 per print.

Feeling sorry for her is the equivalent of feeling sorry for the CEO that demands $70 million in salary while he leads the company into bankruptcy.

She climbed the mountain, reached the peak, and then rolled back down to the valley where normal people hang out. So she ends up in an apartment in SoHo, living an above average life... are we really supposed to feel sorry for her?

You know who I feel sorry for? The 100's of independent photographers that have worked their asses off for a lifetime, doing excellent work, yet can't even afford basic health insurance.

She got lucky, abused her luck and now karma is demanding it's payback.

Ken, I've felt the same way about this since the beginning. I just can't feel sorry for her. She spends money (and wastes resources, equipment, etc) in a way that's frankly embarrassing. With the oppurtunities that have been presented to her by time and time again being in the perfect moment and having the skills to make good of it.. she could be living very very comfortably. In fact, a lot of times it seems like her work is frankly harmful to the public, at least her advertising shlock. There are hundreds of thousands of people who make more interesting work and struggle to feed themselves, so I'll reserve my tears for them.

This expensive dose of reality may be the best thong that ever happened to her ... as a person, that is, and if she truly pays attention. It's hard, but it is karma, meant in the kindest way possible.

Give a shit? I should care what happens to a New York photog when the USA is still on a killing spree around the globe? No way, José.

I don't understand the most opinions written here. I'm not a fan of Annie but she is not crying for eveybody's mercy.
She's a person in trouble. In these cases more people show their hostility against a person. It's so for thousands of years.

Christine Bogan

I can't find myself taking pleasure in someone else's suffering, but like Ken Tanaka I have a hard time generating much sympathy for Ms. Liebovitz. It looks like Getty is going to step in and save her image portfolio, and she still gets a 7-figure annual salary for the next couple of years. She's easily good for another $10 million in earnings, and if she licenses thru Getty she'll have a significant income stream for life. What I don't understand about her and others with similar problems is how on Earth they let millions upon millions of dollars slip through their fingertips. Perhaps if she'd had to pay the piper when she was younger she'd have learned her lesson for a lot less.

Well, first of all I can feel some sympathy for her in that she's clearly suffered from a mild form of mental illness for a very long time and that one of the outcomes has been the now well documented extreme obsessiveness. There's probably an element of long term denial there as well.
However, as adults we all make decisions, right or wrong, and we also have to learn to live with the consequences. Most of us learn quickly and early. We have to in order to survive and/or make progress through life.
Annie L is only just now beginning to learn this as she managed to put off the consequences of her own decision making by going deeper and deeper into debt.
That's tough for her, but that's life. Welcome to the real world!
As for her art - well, it will still be there. She might not own it any longer but it won't be destroyed. Someone will preserve and protect what is valuable and so it will continue to be available for people to admire if they will.
No doubt some kind benefactor will eventually help her so she won't end up on skid row, but it's not something that ordinary folk should be overly concerned about. She did it to herself and we don't owe her.

Count me among those who don't find the story interesting, or Ms. Leibovitz particularly sympathetic. I feel for anyone who has hit rough times, of course, but it's a bit harder to do so when that someone is (1) rich (and will likely remain so despite recent events) and (2) her demise is caused entirely by her own poor judgment, and especially the all-too-common desire to live beyond one's means.

A couple of aspects of the story I found interesting. First is the relationship with Sontag, and Sontag's alleged influence on Leibovitz's photography. That a writer-intellectual who famously degraded photography as a medium would end up with a photographer as a lover is interesting in itself. That the photographer would be a largely commercial one who appeals principally to popular taste even more so.

And what, pray tell, was Sontag's taste in photography, and how did that influence Leibovitz's work? Inquiring minds want to know!

The second is the notion of Leibovitz selling her prints for large sums in 'fine art' galleries (or via high-end auction shops). There is obviously a market for these goods in 2009. But I wonder about their longevity -- 20, 30, 50 years down the road, will people still care about Whoopie Goldberg and Demi Moore? Or will they care simply because "it's an Annie Leibovitz"? At present, critical judgment of Leibovitz's work is tentative (at best) -- e.g., her recent large traveling show has been unevenly reviewed. Will Leibovitz become Avedon with time's passing, or something much less?

A long article with little or no information from the parties directly involved doesn't hold much value to me. But if half of what's written is true then I can probably keep on saying what I've always said: It's is easier becoming an astrounaut than becoming rich from your photography. I tend to agree with Brooks Jensen in that most photography isn't that valuable.

Why is it that people find it so perfectly acceptable to crap all over Annie?

So she was not good with her money and she was sometimes a PITA. You don't hear her complaining in public about her clients...and I guarantee most of them make her look like Little Orphan Annie in comparison.

I for one do feel sorry for her.

I hope everyone has a great day and a truly perfect life.

I know there is a real person doing the suffering, but at the same time it sounds a little like that fakey kind of phony celebrity suffering that's on TV a lot. Interesting reading, but that's all, no tears in my eyes.

I don't like being this cynical but I have first-hand experience. I happen to have in my extended family a princess who lives better than anyone else in the family but that whines and complains about her sad lot all the time. She appears to actually believe her own lies and so may actually believe that she is suffering. But her suffering consists of not being immensely wealthy while feeling that she should be. That's not real suffering; she thinks it is, but it isn't.

I wish Ms AL all the best. Maybe the guvmint can give her a bailout package. Hers would be as well-deserved as some.


I'm really curious about the HVAC guy from Vermont. I demand a follow up story on what makes him so extraordinary. Is he the Leibovitz of HVAC?

"By the late seventies, she had begun to display a lighter, more comic style, like painting the Blues Brothers’ faces blue and posing Bette Midler, star of The Rose, atop a bed of roses."


I agree with Ken Tanaka. Couldn't have said it better myself. Her earning power is far greater than that of us mere mortals. Yet the rest of us, if we were so irresponsible with our budgets, would be toast - and without the NYT to cry over our fate. Then again, I guess financial irresponsibility is pretty widespread... thus the current meltdown.

I'd like to see her cut her hair. Isn't that what this is really all about?

Funny how the wall falling down seems to have led to the collapse of everything else. Too bad, it seems like she doing some heavy duty nesting, getting ready to chill, instyle of course. Looks like its time to go back to work though. Which reminds me, I need to fix that leaky faucet. And the bushes need prunning. ch

In the very complex world in which we all share there is so much that can churn the soul and drag up our emotions, sympathy being just one of them but Ms. Leibovitz is simply not worth any of it. What has she ever done with her talent except to provide facile imagery?

BTW- As for people being friendlier in CA. They definitely smile more- even as they put the knife in your back and turn.

It was interesting for about 5 pages; I read to the end, but stopped caring. It was insightful to read about her photographic development. But otherwise, it's a long-winded way of saying she'd a spoiled brat because nobody ever held her accountable for anything. It sounds like she has emotional issues not unlike those that many other people have, but most other people with those issues have not had the opportunity to be so irresponsible with so much.

I'm not sure how "feeling sorry" for Annie excludes the potential to have sympathy for other people who might be in more dire situations. What's the limit on sympathy?

Whatever. She has problems. I'm sure many of us, given the same lifestlye requirements of her job, would have fallen into some of the same traps. She wasn't born this way. From the article, i think it's plain to see that many of the issues ($800 transport fee for journals, most blatantly) that she has adopted behavior from her work environment. When you are constantly surrounded by the most wealthy, most famous and most powerful people on the planet, you're going to find some of their narcissistic and extravagant habits to not be quite so narcissistic and extravagant. The problem was that she was a millionaire living in a billionaire's world.

I'm not sure, also, that the 'non-pro' photographers here can completely understand the pressures of shooting for agencies, clients, art directors on a daily basis... and having those results publicized/published in the most widely circulated documents. Having to be extraordinarily creative, every day.... A lot of us dream of having her job. I doubt most of us could stand it for more than a short time. She's been doing it forever.

So, yeah, there was sand in her financial foundation. She never was good with money. But, i'm certain she was also exploited. The numbers on those bills are ridiculous. I'm not sure how/why anyone would incur a $200,000 rental lighting bill for one or two years. You could buy the gear she needs for substantially less. She didn't do anything so sophisticated that it couldn't be lit with $30,000 worth of gear. I've read that she often employed custom lighting elements (soft boxes and such), but that also sounds like some grips/assistants were either getting carried away or vendors encouraged (and marked up) the lunacy. Oh, well.

I hope she recovers. We celebrate people in this country who are guilty of far more than a few tantrums.

I thought the story was a good exposé of what happens when someone lives not just beyond their means, but beyond their talent. Not all that different from some NFL players, "rock stars" etc., except that she believed her own hype, and because she hobnobbed with the stars, she believed she was one of them. I'm sure her underlying mental problems have a lot to do with the events described, but I just don't feel sorry for her plight. The right people never said "NO" and let her carry on regardless.

The idea of her getting $33,000 for a print she never made, and depended on a multitude of assistants to produce, is absurd. It's because of her name, not her artistry, which is a big thing in the gallery world. Will her images have "staying power"? I don't think so. Celebrities are for the now-- mass consumption. Who remembers the Hollywood beauties that Steichen photographed? I'd take any one of his images over a Leibovitz any day.

Does Annie Leibovitz have talent? Yes. Is she the the greatest photographer that ever lived? No. Maybe some humility will do her good.

"The idea of her getting $33,000 for a print she never made, and depended on a multitude of assistants to produce, is absurd. It's because of her name, not her artistry, which is a big thing in the gallery world."

Yeah, but so what? Andy Warhol signed blank sheets of paper and sold them for $5,000. People bought them.


Hugh Crawford hit the nail on the head.

It's funny how any mention of Ms. Leibovitz brings a chorus of derision from a bunch of armchair pros sitting at their computers. Sour grapes, methinks.

A cautionary tale....did I just hear Michael Jackson roll over in his grave?

"With the oppurtunities that have been presented to her by time and time again being in the perfect moment and having the skills to make good of it.. she could be living very very comfortably".

But she lives vrey comfortably, and will be living very comfortably. In western society it is very, very difficult to change social status once you got yourself there for a certain period of time.

Not that it does mean you´re better or worse than others.

And now, to my own embarrasment, I have to say that my brain tends to shortcut Annie Leibovitz and Anne Gedes [if I do spell properly the one photographer with babies all around].

"I'm not sure, also, that the 'non-pro' photographers here can completely understand the pressures of shooting for agencies, clients, art directors on a daily basis... and having those results publicized/published in the most widely circulated documents. Having to be extraordinarily creative, every day.... A lot of us dream of having her job. I doubt most of us could stand it for more than a short time. She's been doing it forever."

Well, yes AND no.

Does "the emperor clothes" sound familiar? Usually, in the so called "elite" cultural world, there is the funny fact that you don´t have to be very critical with your own work, nor is everyone around you going to criticize you that much either. I guess is it a kind of group self-preservation.

Thing is, as Mike has pointed, where the artist and public persona prevails over the work.

""It's easy to say that a reasonable and sensible person wouldn't get into her mess but a reasonable and sensible person wouldn't get hired to do what she does.""

Hugh, that's the best response so far. It seems a common response when the "mighty" fall, to further kick them, though she will probably not miss any meals.

That hubris stuff seems to catch a lot of us.

Great read. Thanks, Mike.

I'm reminded of the book "Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence", which also puts art and artists in an economic and social context.

- Tim

Her problems are not much different than those of many others, just on a much higher level? She simply spent more than she made, and assumed all would be well in the end.

How is that different than the tens of thousands of folks (many now homeless) who purchased homes much too large and far too expensive for them to ever realistically afford?

It's the American way. Buy now, pay later....and pay she will.

My wife has a similar trait: she is an accountant, from China. But she is the worst money manger of her personal funds. I look at her salary, and wonder: how can she be on the verge of being broke, all the time? I've tried to talk to her about her spending and husbanding her resources, and it's always met with anger - so I gave up.

Gotta go - she just wrecked another car. And no, I'm not being funny.

Come to think of it, Mother Theresa also hob knobbed with the rich and famous. Alas, she also met a "poor" fate.

"That a writer-intellectual who famously degraded photography as a medium would end up with a photographer as a lover is interesting in itself."

Sontag's essay was required reading in college, in 1972. My reaction was 'she has a lot of nerve.' I remember talking to my mother and classmates after I read it. I said, "Suppose I saw a derelict lying in a doorway, downtown. Then, I went home and from memory I made a photorealistic painting of what I had seen. Am I exploiting that man?"

Here's a thought: let us suppose that I was the one who wrote On Photography, as an undergraduate, and turned it in to a photography professor. Would he say, ' That's really profound. You should expand on it, and use those principles in your street photography.'

Or would he say, 'You are belittling what you have chosen to major in. I suggest you switch your major to sociology.'

Think about it.

I think people are missing the point here. It is not the financial collapse at issue. It is the loss of her copyrights which means she has no control over how her work is used. One famous example is Famous Amos cookies which Amos lost the ability use his name so if Famous Amos makes crappy cookies it still effects him because his name is attached.

If her new copyright owners market her photos where she has no control, it may devalue her brand as her images are used for things that she wouldn't normally have approved.

The real tragedy here is that she is likely losing her images. All that other stuff, I could care less about and there is nothing to add about her inability to come to grips with her success and failures. But she is losing her work. Now that is very sad.

Financially successful people seem to elicit strong emotions in others. The fact that she squandered away boatloads of money in her career invites severe condemnation, at least gauging from the reactions here. Ironically, if her career had followed exactly the same path as outlined in the article, up to and including the apparent lack of 'people skills' with her assistants, but instead of being a spendthrift, she was miserly with her money and never needlessly spent a nickel, she would also probably attract condemnation of approximately the same emotional temperature.

But this is America, and if your ego and your failures are of the same enormous magnitude, it is apparently no big deal to move on, start over, and be back on top of the heap in a matter of a few years. Exhibit #1 : How many times have Donald Trump's projects entered bankruptcy? I think he is on round number four at the moment.

All the people who criticize Annie Leibovitz's shooting expenses have no idea what they are talking about. The umbrella she uses costs $10,000 to buy and $250 to rent from Calumet. Hundreds of other photographers pay the same prices and think it's worth every cent.
Pros rent because when you rent you can mark it up and expense it to the client who then marks that up and bills their client. When you own, all you get to do is depreciate the gear on your taxes. One or two hundred thousand a year for renting lighting ( probably including shipping, and insurance ) sounds pretty reasonable to me. If she bought it all, which would be foolish financially, that sounds kind of low.

I remember messengering Polaroids and clip tests at $300-$600 a pop because the client demanded it back in 1980. The studio essentially had to hire someone to fly to Nashville with an envelope so that the AD could either approve it or request changes because it was costing thousands of dollars an hour to wait for their decision.

She got suckered into the "home ownership is the best investment" myth just like thousands of others, and got caught when the market crashed while she was living in one home while doing a gut renovation on another.

Remember Manhattan is the land of the million dollar studio apartment, and from the sounds of it she was trying to downsize her living expenses which were pretty much under control until she bought the building she was trying to renovate.

Going to the pawnshop rather than declaring bankruptcy and screwing her creditors who she worked with is where she really ruined herself financially.

No good deed goes unpunished as they say.

Seeing all the vitriol here for her trying to get her life together seems really uncalled for.

She didn't inherit her wealth, or swindle people for it, she earned it from customers who thought she was worth it, and she even had to turn away work for lack of time.

BTW, her neighbor Julian Schnabel is in much the same situation.

The real tragedy is that, while even a public option, much less single-payer, appears to be slipping away from the realm of US health insurance possibility, effort is expended writing and people read that article. Sympathy for a self-inflicted life mess? I think not. That would be mistaken allocation of emotion.

As I read this I'm packing up to go shoot a small job this afternoon and the scale of Ms. L's problems seem to be from another planet. All that talent, all that money, all that potential, that any working photog would love to have, but at what cost?.

Keith Loh seemed to have hit the nail on the head with his comment about the loss of her work. And Sam has a very good point about where Annie's work could end up.


I suspect very few people who are familiar with Rembrandt’s biography and, in particular, with the grave financial difficulties he suffered (largely involving encumbrances related to a townhouse that he purchased and expensively renovated at the height of his fortunes), fail to feel sympathy for the man.

Listen,is that the sound of thousands of tiny violins I hear?

I was shocked when Mick Fleetwood declared himself broke..... I didn't know there was that much cocaine in the world!

Isn't this very much like what happened to Rembrandt?

I thought some of the comments here were kind of ugly, till I started reading the comments on various business-oriented websites, where "she looks like a dude" and "she's ugly" are apparently a useful contribution to the discussion.

It's an old story. When you have money, you find yourself surrounded by people who are trying to get their hands on it. Does anyone really believe that a millionaire artist living in NYC gets told that real estate is a risky and illiquid investment? Or do they get told that real estate "never goes down", that this investment is "totally safe", that "this is how Donald Trump got rich"? To quote Felix Salmon's article,

While it’s certainly possible to take advantage of the financially-illiterate poor (lotteries, numbers games, payday lending, overdraft fees, etc) it’s equally lucrative to take advantage of the financially-illiterate rich, both through outright fraud and through hidden and/or excessive money-management fees. Or, in the case of Art Capital Group, getting Leibovitz to take out a loan with punitive default provisions, in the full and certain knowledge that she would be forced to default.

You can think all kinds of things about Ms. Leibovitz, and most of them have occurred to me, I guess, but I was really most interested in the fact that somebody set up what is essentially a brutal loan-sharking firm that preys on artists. *That* really needs a New York Times article. Annie owed them $24 million, and they were trying to peddle her images to Getty for $50 million? That's some serious vig, my man.

My feeling, from reading art history, is that the same characteristics that make some people great artists (Rembrandt, for instance, who went bankrupt even as he was acknowledged as great) also make them bad with money.


Well, if she had been obsessed with finance instead of photography, her photos would have probably been worse than those of your average member of the petite bourgeoisie writing comments about personal responsibility on blogs.

It's a interesting story but I really find it hard to feel sorry for someone who would spend $800 to have two notebooks shipped from overseas. If you live that sort of ridiculous excess then eventually you're going to get burned.

Her "work" has always hurt my eyes. I actually turn the page faster.

Annie is clearly handicapped: no financial/ business sense, common sense, or street sense. We know how society treats the handicapped.

I never cease to be amazed at the moral dimension people attach to money.

Witness the epic vituperation directed at Bernard Madoff, who, ultimately, was nothing more than a thief. Yet few murderers have ever been so despised on such a grand scale as Madoff. The idea of rich people becoming broke is apparently one of the greatest crimes in history --a greater tragedy than the plight of the truly poor.

Annie Liebovitz is broke. Nothing more. It is neither a moral failing nor a moral tragedy. It's just money.

I was in awe with her work untill I saw a documentary about how she photographed either the Demi Moore nude pregnancy or the follow up shot. They had about 5 locations on standby (how many studios does a pro need?. They had a 100`s of rolls of film. I am sorry even if you give a monkey a camera and an infinite amount of shots to get just 1 picture, odds are one will be good! Wasteful and excessive!

"It's easy to say that a reasonable and sensible person wouldn't get into her mess but a reasonable and sensible person wouldn't get hired to do what she does.

Hugh, that's the best response so far. It seems a common response when the "mighty" fall, to further kick them, though she will probably not miss any meals.

That hubris stuff seems to catch a lot of us."

Exactly! It is a form of public stoning, only good for one thing--making us feel better about ourselves! Some of the comments here remind me very much of a scene or two from Monty Python's The Life Of Brian. What a rabid pack we have turned into, kicking someone who is down! So sad....

I don't consider Annie is a particularly great photographer, but I am not envious of her success. And, maybe because of that, I feel sympathy for her. Yes, she has made mistakes, repeatedly even. So what? Who hasn't?

She might have to relinquish the rights to her photographs to avoid bankruptcy. She's almost sixty so maybe she won't miss these rights that much anyway. I mean, she can't take her photographic rights to the grave with her. She can still keep on making tons of money making more photographs. What's the problem? She has a number of houses and may have to sell a few of them and just live in one mansion. It's not the end of the world. She screwed up and now will probably have learned her lesson. She is still a very creative artist and am confident that she will continue to produce stimulating work. I hope that she feels the same way and keeps producing. She'll do just fine. The bottom line is that maybe she will start to produce even better work now because the crisis will put certain things "into perspective". Maybe not. Good luck to you Annie.

Somehow I suspect that artistic ability times common sense equals a constant- whatever extraordinary amount you have in one category is balanced out by the lack of any in the other category.


"She'll do just fine."

Do you happen to remember when Willie Nelson owed $6 million in back taxes? They were talking about charges and prison time. Instead, they let him work off the debt, which he did in just a couple of years. He was, and is, fine, because he has that kind of earning power.


There have been some insightful comments in this thread. But some of the crueler negative comments here say more about the posters than they do about Annie L. Many ordinary people took drugs in the 60s, or messed up their lives, finances or careers. But they don't have their troubles plastered all over national media for every jealous person to gloat over.

Schadenfreude is not a commendable human trait. It should be reserved for truly evil people, not for those who overextend themselves in the hyperkinetic fun-house mirror fishbowl that is celebrity.

I don't think that Annie L. is the world's greatest photographer, but she is certainly a good one, and she's taken some iconic images.

Apart from feeling bad for Annie's troubles, I dislike such stories because they reinforce the idea that all artistic people are flaky, messed-up and unreliable. So you shouldn't hire them or let your child marry one. And if you have artistic impluses yourself, supress them, because they will lead you to ruin if you try to exercise them.


I have never been comfortable criticizing another photographer or his/her work, let alone being a harsh critic. Reading others' harsh words leaves just as bad of a taste for me. I will only comment that Annie's words moved me:

" . . . . Photography is not something you retire from . . . . (photographers) live to a very old age (and) work until the end . . . . "

That suggests that looking for the next photograph is part of someone's very essence and soul.

Well, the working poor sometimes lose their cars to the title loan places. She may lose the rights to her work from what is essentially an upscale title loan establishment. It also appears she invested in real estate at the peak.

At least she still has income coming in. A large and growing percentage of the population have bills and no current or future income. I'm feeling sorry for them, not some highly paid train wreck who makes more in a year than most of us see in a lifetime...

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