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Exploring Africa with Martin and Osa Johnson.

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They were now equipped to set off on their first safari. Since they had passed so many animals on the Athi Plains on the train, that would seems as good a place as any for a trail run. With their three vehicles loaded with equipment and porters, they drove out on the plains and found a pleasant campsite on the Athi River. There they set up tents, unpacked cameras and guns and set off to photograph the very same game that had paid so little attention to the train as it passed.

 

But to men on foot or in cars, the game reacted quite differently. Shooting for the pot was a daily affair for many of Nairobi's two thousand white inhabitants, and the "indifferent" game the Johnsons had viewed from the train set off at a run at the mere sight of a safari car bouncing across the plains. Their reaction to man on foot was the same.

 

Source - Exploring with Martin and Osa Johnson by Kenhelm W. Stott, Jr - Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum press, 1978

 

"Well I guess that's everything," Martin said anxiously eyeing our heavily loaded safari Fords. This was about a week after our long talk with Blayney Percival, and we were at last ready to leave for our first experimental trip to the Athi River. The cars stood in the driveway outside our bungalow and every inch of space was piled high.

 

I drove one car, Martin the other and with us we took the two headmen, Jerramani and Ferraragi; our cook, Mpishi; our room boy, Aloni; and our all round houseboy, Zabenelli. None of them trusted me as a driver and so they rode with martin. Father Johnson rode with me.

 

The roads out of Nairobi were of smooth, hard-packed clay. Within twenty minutes were were in the open plains, and not more than an hour from Nairobi we began to see gazelle, ostrich, and zebra.

 

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Museum title: Osa Johnson on Plain With Zebra Herd in Gingham Dress

 

"Why, all Martin will have to do, practically, is set up his camera and turn the crank. And as for meat for the porters, look at that bunch of antelope over there! We can just shut our eyes and shoot!" I bounced the car off the road and bounced it back on again. Everything rattled and shook.

 

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Museum title: Stream, Palms, Palmettos

Perhaps close to the scene of their camp?

 

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Museum title: Camera Set Up to Photograph Stream, Martin Johnson and Porter

 

In about four hours we came to the place that Blayney Percival had suggested for our camp. It might have been a lovely scene in a park, with the gnarled trunks of great mimosa trees framing the gently sloping banks and lively stream, and to the north a dark, jagged cliff for contrast.

From - I Married Adventure - Osa Johnson 1940

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Can you imagine traveling in those vehicles?

Today the modern 4X4 with thick tyres and super traction, body lift and suspension its hard to imagine that those vehicles got around at all. It must have been easier to walk. You probably needed a team of people to push the vehicle around.

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Images from the first safari.

trip1-62.jpg

Museum title: Camp Scene, Osa with Employees, Ford, Tent

 

It is my assumption this is from the first safari as Osa's clothing matches closely that referenced in other images of this series, however I may be wrong. Also the tree trunk directly behind Osa appears the same as that which is behind the camp in the following image.

 

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Museum title: First Safari, Camp Scene

 

Jerramani and Ferraragi proceeded to order the setting up of our modest camp, and the air of disdain which accompanied this made clear that each was remembering the important men he had served and the impressive camps he had supervised - men of Theodore Roosevelt's calibre, Carl Akeley's.

 

After dinner we sat about the fire in front of our shelter. It was our first evening in the African open and I was fit to pop with excitement. I was even shivering a little.

 

All we could hear at first was the soft rush of the river close at hand and the plaintive cry of the night birds. It was a clear, moonless night. Then suddenly, on the opposite bank of the river, we heard a ghoulish, mirhtless laugh. From what Blayney Percival had told us, that would be a hyena. Then, as our ears became accustomed to the vibrant silence, we picked out the grunt of the wildebeest and the sneeze of the hartebeest, and then, difficult at first to identify, a low, steady rumble and a faint viabration in the earth.
"Antelope, I think," Martin said, "stampeding across the plain."

From - I Married Adventure - Osa Johnson 1940

trip1-46.jpg

Museum title: Athi Plains, Osa Johnson with Gun Bearer in Model T Truck

 

trip1-47.jpg

 

Museum title: Athi Plains (Area Below Nairobi) , Eland

Blayney Percival advising Martin Johnson before setting out:

 

"... it's going to be up to you to provide meat for your headman and porters. They're forbidden by the government to carry guns, you know, with the exception of your picked gun-bearers, and if you can't provide meat, you'll have to hire a white man - professional hunter - for the job. Cost you more than all your porters put together."
"Well -" Martin hesitated. "How much?"
"Around a thousand dollars a month."

From - I Married Adventure - Osa Johnson 1940

During the week the first safari lasted, they shot only two animals. Martin finally brought down an impala which he dragged on foot ten miles back to camp. To his dismay Jerramani and the other porters refused to eat it because it had not been properly hallaled: the local version of Mohammedanism rendered any animal whose throat had not been cut before death unfit to eat.

 

Source - Exploring with Martin and Osa Johnson by Kenhelm W. Stott, Jr - Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum press, 1978

 

... we heard a blast from Martin's police whistle a short distance away. We raced to to where he was, on the far side of a clump of thornbush. At his feet lay a beautiful impala with long, curved horns. Martin was completely exhausted. For more than an hour he had dragged the hundred pound buck across the plains.
"I couldn't leave it," he said. "As it was, a pack of hyenas followed me most of the way."

 

From - I Married Adventure - Osa Johnson 1940

trip1-48.jpg

Museum title: Osa and her First Antelope. Athi Plains, 1921

 

I picked out the largest buck in the herd, took a long and careful aim, and fired. To my complete astonishment, he fell where he stood. The rest of the animals galloped away.
"Hey," cried Martin excitedly. "That was a piece of luck. I guess we're better when we don't take aim than when we do!"
"What do you mean?" I was indignant. "I took aim, and that's the one I picked!"
"All right Annie Oakley." Martin laughed. "If you can pick 'em off at four hundred yards, are troubles are over, and that's all right with me!"
"That's the one I aimed at, I tell you!"

 

I was so furious with him I couldn't speak, but when we stopped at the side of the sleek tawny animal, I forgot about being angry. The soft eyes of the lovely creature were wide open, and they seemed to look straight at me with reproach for taking his life. I turned away and burst into tears.
"I wish I hadn't killed him!" I sobbed in Martin's neck. "He's so harmless - and so beautiful!"

From - I Married Adventure - Osa Johnson 1940

trip1-49.jpg

Museum title: Porters Carrying Meat, Athi Plains 1921

 

The second animal shot was a kongoni. This time it was properly hallaled and Jerramani and company accepted it but they were far from impressed.

Source - Exploring with Martin and Osa Johnson by Kenhelm W. Stott, Jr - Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum press, 1978

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Museum title: Martin Johnson with Camera, Ready for Game

 

"We came to get pictures, and what do we have to show for it?" he demanded. "Nothing! I'm throwing away other people's money for - nothing!"

 

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Museum title: Athi Plains

 

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Museum title: Athi Plains Thomson Gazelle

 

"It's been the same story day after day," Martin said glumly.
"Everything we've done has been wrong. As a matter of fact, the whole trip here to the Athi River has been a total loss."
"If I remember rightly," Father Johnson said in his sometimes brittle, humorous fashion, "experience was what you came for, wasn't it?"
"I guess so," Martin replied vaguely. He wasn't listening.
"More failure than success in it, sure," Father Johnson went on. "That's what makes it valuable. Keeps you working. Makes you learn."
Martin was intent on a gloomy review of our failures.

From - I Married Adventure - Osa Johnson 1940

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Please note: images have been retro added to previous posts, as I discover more relevant photographs in the archive.

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trip1-65.jpg

Museum title: Martin and Osa Johnson with John Walsh, Model T Auto

 

We met John Walsh in Nairobi at one of the native markets. His occupation was "killin' meat," and he was completely matter -of-fact about it. Weathered and hard as a knot of hickory, nevertheless his sandy hair was sprinkled with gray, and his back was quite bent. He was very sensitive about his age and tried to straighten his round shoulders whenever he caught us looking at him.

 

When he got to know us a little better, he confessed to sicty years, but he was probably well over seventy.
Martin eyed him with proper respect. A man of his age who could make a living that way must know his business.
Mr. Walsh concluded his dickering with the native market owner - grumbling out of habit, I'm sure - and, pushing whatever money he had collected into a greasy snap purse, was about to climb into his old Ford when Martin stopped him.
"I'd like to talk to you, Mr. Walsh." he said.
"Shoot," replied Mr. Walsh. "I ain't got much time."
He scratched his back impatiently through the rips in an amazingly clean blue shirt and squinted at us speculatively under the stiff brim of a tattered helmet. I think he had the narrowest, sharpest pair of eyes I'd ever looked into.
The upshot of this talk was that John Walsh put himself and his old Ford at our disposal, together with his place on a plateau near the edge of the Athi Plains some forty miles from town. His price was five dollars a day, we had to supply our own groceries and kill our own meat. He sketched a rough map which he shoved into Martin's hand, then put his Ford into a sort of standing jump and was off down the street in a cloud of blue stench that hung on the air long after he had gone from sight.

 

"Craziest hunter feller I ever seed." he confided to Father Johnson about Martin.

From - I Married Adventure - Osa Johnson 1940

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Images from the second safari.

 

Martin decided that night to experiment with building a camera blind near a waterhole about two miles from Mr. Walsh's. We went to work on it the next morning - Martin, his father, and I - and I thought we had done a very nice job, since there was nothing at all to distinguish the blind from the clumps of growing thornbrush in the vicinity.

 

trip1-75.jpg

Museum title: Blind, By Waterhole

 

trip1-73.jpg

Museum title: Wildebeest, Eland and Zebra at Waterhole

 

After a long wait, the animals began to come one by one - zebra, impala, kongoni, ostrich. For no reason that we could figure out, however, they didn't go down to the water but kept just out of camera range, milled about for around two hours, and went away.

trip1-74.jpg

Museum title: Zebra at Waterhole

 

trip1-76.jpg

Museum title: Striped Hyena

 

trip1-77.jpg

Museum title: "Chobe" Hills Osa at Blind

 

trip1-78.jpg

Museum title: Plain, Giraffe on the Horizon

 

Martin had much more patience than I, for after three days of this I had none left, and besides, my knees gave out. I simply couldn't crouch any longer. Father Johnson went with him the next afternoon and I remained home. Mr. Walsh had washed his hands of us by this time. We could stay at his place as long as we liked, he said - five dollars a day, payable every morning before breakfast - if we kept our ape away from his chickens.

 

Referring to Kalowatt who up until this time had been chasing the skinny birds around the scrub and pulling their tail feathers out.

 

trip1-79.jpg

Museum title: Impala, Zebra, Oryx at Waterhole

 

From - I Married Adventure - Osa Johnson 1940

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"Any luck in the blind this evening?" I ventured to ask after a while.

"Warthogs!" Martin replied disgustedly.

I thought the pictures of warthogs were extremely interesting. We were back at our home in Nairobi.

 

trip1-66.jpg

 

Museum title: Warthog in grass.

 

Martin had developed and printed them and was projecting them along with some other odds and ends of things he'd photographed at the Athi River.

"Why that's simply wonderful photography Martin" I said. "Just look at how the cross lighting hits the bumps on these hogs."

"Yes," Martin growled, "and just look at three months in Africa with nothing but warthogs to show for it - look how that hits our pocketbook!"

trip1-67.jpg

 

Museum title: Warthog at waterhole.

 

trip1-68.jpg

Museum title: Warthog.

 

"Warthogs." he muttered to himself.

Blayney Percival saw the warthog picture a few days later and thought it fine.

trip1-69.jpg

Museum title: Warthog in water.

 

"You're getting on to the peculiarities of the atmosphere now, old man," he said to Martin, "Another short trip or two and you'll be ready for anything."

"We were thinking we'd like to get into big - animal country this next trip." Martin said.

trip1-70.jpg

Museum title: Warthog in waterhole.

 

Blayney Percival nodded and spread a map on the table.

"Here's the place I suggest."

From - I Married Adventure - Osa Johnson 1940

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I was at the museum in 1998 or 99, can't remember, but it was a pretty nice place to visit. The staff certainly was enthusiastic!

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Welcome to safartalk, Shatzi! Finding this site was a good way to start 2009.

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gallery_1_152_67061.jpg

Museum title: Zebra wildebeest at waterhole.

 

They were not the first to photograph African wildlife by any means. Carl Akeley had already become deeply involved in such a project as had A. Racliffe Dugmore, and there were others as well. But the Johnson’s timing coud not have been better; they were in the midst of the Golden Age of photographic exploration, one which would send Admiral Richard Byrd to both poles, William Beebe far into the briny ocean depths, the Piccards high aloft in their balloon, and Roy Chapman Andrews to the Gobi Desert and its dinosaur eggs.

gallery_1_152_4061.jpg

Museum title: Zebra at waterhole.

 


Kenhelm W. Stott, Jr, Exploring with Martin and Osa Johnson, 1978

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gallery_1_152_14242.jpg

 

Museum title: Three Elephants on a Hill

 

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Museum title: Osa Johnson with gun tracking elephants

 

On the Johnson’s first trip, they, as did almost everyone else, thought of hunting as high sport and shot many an animal. Their attitude was to change markedly in years to come. As more sophisticated camera equipment allowed them to film from greater distances, there were fewer “charges”, and both Martin and Osa became reluctant to shoot anything except “for the pot” or to bring down an animal that was definitely not bluffing.

Kenhelm W. Stott, Jr, Exploring with Martin and Osa Johnson, 1978

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Museum title: Martin with Elephant that Fell Next to Camera

 

I have developed seven thousand feet of the 27,000 I have exposed on the trip — it is great stuff, the picture of the elephant charge is the best of the bunch. Osa turned the crank until nothing but the elephant's tusks showed in the aperture. He must have been eight feet from the camera when she stopped turning. I remember now that she had to sight almost straight up when she shot and saved my life as well as her own. I know I would have deserted the camera before she did and I would have run like hell.

Martin Johnson, Safari; A Saga of An African Adventure, 1928

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gallery_1_152_20907.jpg

Museum title: Osa Johnson Wearing Gingham Jumper, 8' Elephant Tusks

 

gallery_1_152_1960.jpg

Museum title: Thika Post, Wagons 1921

 

“We left Nairobi for the Ithanga hills in about a week, just before the “short rains”. In addition to Martin, his father, and me, and our personal servants, we added a dozen porters who within a few months were to be the nucleus of a safari company of a hundred and ten men. It took us only a few hours in our safari Fords to reach Thika, a small settlement at the foot of the hills. Here we were joined by two ox wagon sent on, the night before, with our camp equipment and chop boxes. These wagons were clumsy, springless affairs and might have been patterned after the covered wagons of our own pioneer West.”

Osa Johnson, I Married Adventure, 1940

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gallery_1_152_62710.jpg

Museum title: Porters, Gun Bearer, 1921

 

gallery_1_152_9022.jpg

Museum title: Chobe Hills, Porters on Safari, 1921

 

gallery_1_152_101631.jpg

Museum title: Chobe Hills, Natives at Soda Spring

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gallery_1_152_38762.jpg

Museum title: Moran at Waterhole

 

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Museum title: Ithanga Hills, Martin, Osa and Men Photographing Elephant, 1921

 

It is only a question of time until the Africa elephant will have gone to join the other extinct mammoths in some Pleistocene heaven. Civilization has already crowded him out of South Africa. It is busy pushing him into remote corners in East Africa. Every new sisal plantation is a strike in the elephant’s knell. For as soon as you have settlers and farms, the elephant, with the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus, must be banished. The mammoths belong to an age when man had not yet become chief of the animals.”

Martin Johnson, Camera Trails in Africa, 1924

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This is absolutely fascinating, I can tell you I WILL make a pilgrimage to the museum when I am next Stateside.

 

Some of it is quite surreal :o

 

This deserves a full-length feature film.

 

Thank you for this thread Game Warden - awesome. :D

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gallery_1_152_101288.jpg

Museum title: Daddy Johnson with Skinners, Rhino Tusks, Skins and Feet

 

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Museum title: Ithanga Hills, 1921

 

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Museum title: Osa and Man, Ithanga Hills, 1921

 

gallery_1_152_143313.jpg

 

 

I heard a crash in the brush just behind us and saw Father Johnson’s face take on a fixed, frozen stare. I whirled. Not thirty feet away, a huge buffalo was coming out of the thicket, head down, straight at us. I fired.

 

Osa Johnson, I Married Adventure, 1940


 

 

During a second safari this one to the Ithanga Hills more than sixty miles north east of Nairobi, they had their first brush (literally) with African buffaloes, photographed several and brought down two to feed themselves and the porters… Martin was awarded the name of Bwana Piccer (Mister Picture) and Osa, Memsahib Kidogo (Little Mrs.).

 

Kenhelm W. Stott, Jr, Exploring with Martin and Osa Johnson, 1978

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gallery_1_152_37979.jpg

Museum Title: Porters at Tarlton, Whetham & Burman Safari Outfitters

 

The Bureau of Native Affairs has laid down very definite rules governing both master and man. Every African employed by a white man is registered at the bureau and must carry a kapandi, or identification card, bearing his fingerprints and description. To desert his mater is an offense punishable by imprisonment, unless the native can prove treatment contrary to the regulations. The white employer, on the other hand, is bound to provide each man with a canteen, a blanket, and daily ration fo two pounds of mealy-meal. When there is meat, the porter is given but one pound of mealy. A safari porter is not required to carry more than sixty pounds or to travel more than fifteen miles a day.

Osa Johnson, I Married Adventure, 1940

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gallery_1_152_86373.jpg

Museum Title: Martin and Porter Fixing Tire on Model T Truck

 

We had added a truck to our motored vehicles and an eager, resourceful young man by the name of Cotter to drive it... Our cars were so heavily loaded that they sagged on their axles, and we were obliged to curb our impatience and drive slowly. Martin was at the wheel of one of the Fords with Zabenelli and Jerramani as passengers, Cotter carried Aloni and Toto in his truck, and I drove the other Ford, accompanied by Father Johnson, Mpishi, and Ferraragi.

Osa Johnson, I Married Adventure, 1940

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Museum Title: Martin Johnson and Model T Engine

 

The trip from Nairobi to Mount Marsabit took roughly a month at that time and the route then used went around the eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya through Embu and Meru rather then on the western slopes through Nyeri and Nanyuki and Timau as the paved road does today. Beyond “the mountain” the road drops down to Isiolo, then to the river at Archer’s Post. The Northen Guaso Nyiro originates in the highlands to the west, flows east to the Lorian Swamp, and vanishes before reaching the Indian Ocean.

Kenhelm W. Stott, Jr, Exploring with Martin and Osa Johnson, 1978

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GW, I love this thread and the way the photos and text integrates. I was just looking at the thread when my husband said "I have that book". He bought it second hand, loved it, put it into the bookshelf and I never knew or if I did I forgot.

 

Is there a book published which contains their photos in coffee table form. I did a quick Amazon search but couldn't find one?

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G.W., I love these excerpts. I first came across the Johnsons in Bartle Bull's book 'Safari, A chronicle of

 

Adventure.' That really was the time of adventure. I wonder if I would have been so brave setting off into the

 

unknown. I certaily enjoy reading about those times.

 

 

Jan

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Okay, I wasn't going to bring this up, but as two people have asked: I am currently involved in editing a coffee table type book with the museum, which includes interviews with people who knew and worked with the Johnsons, as well as some well known conservation figures: it will feature many of the images from the museum's archive, a large percentage which have never been published before - I'm doing this work for nothing and helping the museum with various odds and ends, for the pleasure of having a connection with the Johnson's legacy.

 

Safaritalk is very lucky in that I have been given permission to share the huge variety of images which Martin and Osa shot (+-/ 6500) as well as copyright permission to use text from their books, personal diaries, letters etc. In fact it was this thread which gave birth to the idea of producing a coffee table book.

 

Thanks for your interest and I have already passed it on to the museum - I know they will be glad of the interest the story is arousing.

 

Matt

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Great news G.W. I'm very interested and would definately buy a copy.

 

 

Jan

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GW, I have been mentioning this possible coffee table book to non safari going photographers and they are also very interested in the book due to the photographic content. The market may be wider than the museum imagines.

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gallery_1_152_41119.jpg

Museum Title: Journey, Lake Paradise, Martin & Osa with Porters and Cameras

 

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Museum Title: Ford Car on Safari, Kalowatt

 

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Museum Title: Martin and Osa Johnson with Men and Cameras

 

I have no scientific training in anything but photography. But my cameras have an exactitude that no human being could attain. They can record the animal story accurately. They can repeat it over and over without forgetting and varying. And I believe, too, that they can make better pictures of animals and natives who do not know that they are being watched and photographed...

Martin Johnson, Chapter 10 Introduction, Four Years in Paradise by Osa Johnson

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These are great photos, G.W., keep them coming! I can't get enough of them.

 

Jan

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