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Friday Art Crush: Shlomi Amiga

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Tell me a little bit about your relationship with photography

My relationship with photography started about twelve years ago or so, when I was in the army. It started as something very mechanical that triggered something else completely, and turned into a passion that developed over the years. I make a living off of photography, and I have been shooting professionally for about seven or eight years full time. I work with a variety of subjects, but the reason why I was attracted to photography initially was the documentary aspect of it, and the idea of the photograph as a historical record. Not so much as a way to express myself, but more as a tool and an excuse for observation. I always joke saying that I’m a people-watcher who turned that into a profession. Most of my work is documentary-based in one way or the other, and I have a camera on me at any given time.

Sounds like a very complex relationship, do you draw a line between the photography that you make a living from and other personal projects?

I don’t draw a line because photography for me is an impulse, in that I shoot very impulsively. Some of my work can be more polished depending on what the assignment’s requirements are, but, for example, my street photography is very impulsive and can have a very snapshot aesthetic, although it is also organized and balanced. Even when I photograph weddings, I am not interested in doing it in a specific style in order to support my business or book more work; I try to stay truthful to what I like to do, hoping that people end up liking it as well. It’s been going well so far.  

How do you come up with or settle for a specific project, such as your thesis, when photography is so ubiquitous/ever-present in your life?

It’s tough. It’s not tough because I don’t have ideas, but because I am in a stage in my life where it is not very easy to make work. I am a new parent: I have a three year old and a nine month old at home. There’s a lot of responsibility and time that I need to dedicate to my family, which is my number one priority, and then there’s also my business I focus on so I can generate income. After those two priorities, there’s not a lot of time left in a day. Even when I have the spark of an idea, it is very difficult to see how that can come to life practically, at least for now. Because I know that I am very limited, I get less creative with my thinking. I think every new parent would say that you kind of get lost in those years, you lose the luxury of being who you were before becoming a parent and focus on this one really important thing. I’m sure that as the kids get older, I will regain more time to produce more work.

Have you had an interest in documenting your family?

I do have an interest, and I think it’s very natural to look at your kids and want to photograph them. But having photography as my passion, hobby and profession, a lot of the time I don’t want to do it when I’m with my kids. Spending time with them is more valuable to me than spending that same time behind the camera. I much rather be present; I mean, I’ll pick up the camera sometimes and snap a few photos, but I’ll always go back to being present and part of what is happening in the moment.

In terms of your thesis project, what have you been working on?

I’ve had to change the direction of my project twice since September. The first time I was working with a subject who decided to stop participating, and since the project was focused on that individual, it went down the drain, at least for now. The second one was cancelled for practical reasons, I wasn’t able to get permissions to photograph a specific landscape that I wanted to work on. The third project kind of stemmed from a conversation that I had with a model I have worked with before: they’re non-binary, and I decided to focus on that theme for different reasons. Mainly because it is interesting to me, and I don’t know enough about it. Over the years, photography has been a tool that has allowed me to meet people, connect with them, educate myself, and become more open-minded in everything I do and the way I look at the world. I decided to focus on the subject of non-binary gender for my thesis project and I started reaching out to the community, working with people, having conversations, listening to their stories, and documenting them in their environments.

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What are things that you keep in mind when approaching a community that perhaps you don’t consider yourself a part of?

Any community, whether I consider myself to be a part of it or not, I approach it very carefully. Non-binary gender is not new, but is relatively newly exposed in our society, so the community itself can sometimes be sensitive about this exposure, and often worry about their safety. Luckily, I am a people’s person, and like to think that my energy allows people to feel comfortable. I make connections, and I make the work about those connections. My work can be very process based, and in some of my previous projects, the process was at times 95% of the work and the photos acted as place cards to talk about the process. Most importantly: getting to know people, being respectful, showing genuine interest, and also being very transparent about my intentions, my views, where the work is going, why, and what I hope to get out of it.

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Considering that viewers will read the work based on what is being showed and how, what’s your vision for the final presentation? How do you see this project evolving this semester? 

Conceptually, I’m hoping to bring a lot of intimacy into the photographs, and a lot of pride, making sure that the subjects are represented in a way that they can feel happy and comfortable, and that can empower them. I’m going to be documenting everything, and because I like to work very intuitively, I approach my shoots with a general idea or what I want to experiment with, but I also leave space for flexibility. I envision this body of work to feel very organic in the end, rather than just presenting a collection of portraits brought together with an artist statement. This is something that I’m trying to avoid. Not proven to be very easy, if I’m honest.

Have you had a chance to reach out to the community and arrange some shoots yet?

I have. So far, I have met a person who owns a hair salon,  someone who works there as well, an OCAD student who is an artist and a writer, and a freelance model. They’re all very different. I’m working with different personalities and trying to show the individuality in my subjects. This is a priority because I can bring a different perspective to people who are outsiders, or not informed enough about the subject, or even opposed to it for whatever reason: I emphasize that these are people, they do their thing like everybody else, they live, and they love. The individuality aspect of the images is extremely important to me, and I achieve that through conversations, I don’t just show up and shoot. I meet them for coffee and we talk, I make sure everybody feels comfortable; I learn about them and their stories, and the process is a collaboration. What you get from your subjects, what you learn about them, will trigger different ideas, and I use that to make sure it the process does not end up being just me projecting all my views and perspectives on my subjects, and as a result on the finalized series.

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In the process of working on your thesis, what have been obstacles and what has helped in overcoming them?

The problem that I often have is aiming very high. I don’t want to make work that is just going to end up lost in my hard drive. When it comes to the practicality of things, there is often that disconnect between what I want to do and if it is possible or not. I have been dealing with getting approval and also facing a lot of rejection from people who I wanted to work with. I try very hard to accomplish things and if I can’t, I change directions. Also, time management is so hard: last night I was up with the baby twice, work up at 6, commuted from Oakville…

Luckily, my wife is an extremely supportive partner in many different ways. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be able to juggle between school, work, and being a dad and a husband. I keep a very tight calendar, which I also use as a to-do list, but it is mainly my wife. She is a project manager and an event planner, so she gives me all the tools, she understands, is forgiving, and is also a great mom.

Is there anything that you would’ve liked to know before starting your thesis year?

I don’t necessarily feel anything about thesis itself, because I don’t think the time constrain it comes with necessarily helps me. I work well under pressure, but I don’t think I can do my very best in eight months while being overloaded by all these other things too. I’m not phased by it because I am in a different stage in my life, I’m 34 now and I’ve been through a lot in my life – I’ve been a medic, served in the army, I have seen a lot of stuff. But I do feel for younger students thesis can be a huge deal. I mean, I think it is very important, but I do think the expectation doesn’t go hand in hand with the time that we actually have to work on the project. In the end, if you like to do work and photography is a tool of expression for you, you should be working at that level all the time after you know how to do it, and thesis hopefully teaches you that.

What are some professors that have made a positive impact during your time at OCAD?

Over the years, Meera Margaret Singh has always been one of my favourite professors, she is kind of a walking photography encyclopedia. She’s very knowledgeable, and I like her energy. April Hickox is also one of my favourite teachers, she treats her students more like they’re people than they’re students. April can be a mom figure for a lot of people, and which I think is a beautiful thing. If you can find the right balance when working with her, she’s incredible. She’s also very knowledgeable and extremely experienced.

Friday Art Crush: Sabrina Carrizo Sztainbok

Friday Art Crush is an interview series highlighting the work of Photography students in their thesis year at OCAD U. We grab a coffee and chat about what they have been exploring, and they share great advice for working on a year-long project. The series was created and led by Morgan Sears-Williams; this year, it has been taken over by Ana Luisa Bernárdez.

This week, Ana chatted with Sabrina Carrizo Sztainbok, a Photo major in her fourth year.

 

Tell me a little about what you’ve been exploring during your studies at OCAD.

I’m really interested in absurdity, more specifically in creating believable absurdity. I’m really influenced by magical realism, and I try to translate that into photography, in a way. It’s been through something that I have come to call “banal absurdity”. Everything I do has an aspect of fiction, but also tries to pass as reality. It’s usually something absurd and a little funny, there’s always an aspect of humor in my work.

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How has this translated into your thesis project?

For my thesis, I’ve been taking self-portraits that are meant to look like family snapshots, but all the subjects are me. The photographs follow two fictional sisters, who I guess are twins. I haven’t exactly sorted out the precise story of their lives; I want it to be ambiguous, and I don’t necessarily want to know everything. The work is definitely influenced by my relationship with my sister, and my mom’s relationship with hers.

What are some of your strategies for achieving an aesthetic that looks from a specific time period?

I thrift a lot. I’m very interested in second hand clothing, and I have even done projects about the past lives of clothes. I own clothing that look as if they are from a certain time, even if they’re not. I also use photoshop to edit things like wallpaper, but I don’t necessarily want them to be perfect; the photographs are completely artificial, and I don’t mind if people realize that at some point. They are fragile constructions, which is something that I like.

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From i was there, a self-portrait series in thrifted clothing. 2018.

 

How was the final presentation of your thesis project last semester, and how do you see it evolving?

By the end of the semester, I was starting to explore installing the photos as if they existed in a domestic space. I had a bunch of these images in a photo box that people could pick up, and also a couple of prints on the wall. I think what I’m leaning towards for the end of the semester is creating an installation that looks like a room: some wallpaper, photos on the wall, and also others that people can pick up and look at. I like the idea that the more people handle the photos, the more authentic they’ll look. The goal is also to find second hand furniture, things that already have a past life.

What are your visual references or inspirations for your shoots?

I definitely collect photos from antique stores, and it’s good to keep track of different formats that were most commonly used at different times and what they look like. But I’m going to be focusing more on the 60’s – 80’s time period, because that’s what I mostly see in my family albums, which have definitely been an inspiration. I get ideas from those photographs: birthday or halloween shoots, what people were wearing in 1984, or if someone is standing in a particular way. I take that, and create something similar.

You have done a lot of self-portraiture, have you also worked with models, friends or family?

In an interview, Cindy Sherman talked about feeling bad when asking other people to stay still for a long period of time during a shoot, or struggling to get the right performance out of them. If you’re your own model, you know exactly what you’re looking for, and how to achieve or deliver that. I’m also always available at the time that I need to be available, which is convenient. I definitely felt held back by the idea of doing self-portraiture in the past, I used to think: “How am I going to make this idea work? How am I going to take a photo of myself? It’ll be so difficult”, but once I started doing it, it became the easiest option. In high school, I was very into Henri Cartier-Bresson and the idea of the decisive moment, but then I started wondering if I was ever going to happen upon a “decisive moment.” Being so impatient, I ended up thinking “Why don’t I just make it up?”.

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It sounds like your project is more rooted in a curiosity for the vernacular and familial aspect of photographs, rather than in attempting to create a survey of the “History of Photography” through self-portraits.

Initially it was more like that. Maybe not necessarily the history of photography, but as if there were these two sisters that were transcending time, or being reincarnated. I wanted the work have this weird, fantasy aspect to it. Then I realized it wasn’t working, and I became more interested in the relationship between my mom and her sister, and me and my sister. I focus more in that time period, because it is something that I understand better.

How was the process of choosing your thesis topic?

This is kind of an amalgamation of all the ideas I’ve had throughout OCAD, when it comes to photography, and I vaguely had the idea before I started thesis. The most important thing is realizing what you’re interested in. For me, it was realizing that I was interested in storytelling, in making up stories. Every time I’m stumped for an idea, I ask myself “What do I like? If I like stories, how can I incorporate that?”. In other projects, I have also come back to  family relationships, siblings, vintage things, props, clothes; it all came together to make sense. If people are thinking about how they’re going to get ideas for thesis, it is really important to step back and think about what you’re interested in.

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That makes a lot of sense, I think “an amalgamation” is a great way to describe it. Do you also write stories?

I used to, but now I’m always writing in my phone notes. It will be sentences that I plan to use in songs, or sometimes I just think “I need it to write this, these words sound good together”, and I do. To me, they are like mini stories as well.

I know that you’re also a musician, do you think your approach to your artwork is also reflected in Slobrina as a persona?

I’m always putting on characters, and it always goes back to storytelling, magical realism and absurdity. With Slobrina I’m inhabiting a different character than I am in my photographs. In that character there’s a lot of self-pitying, which is a specific part of myself that I channel mainly through music. I like confusing people with who I am, and I think there is power in that; although none of my photography is overtly political, I do think there will always be a political aspect in it. I used to sit around and wait for something to happen, for myself to get represented. Then, I started using  photography, music, and different characters to be whoever I want to be.

During your experience with thesis, what have been some obstacles, and what has helped in overcoming them?

I always feel like I’m rushing to the finish line, stressed about trying to get everything done. It always works out in the end, but my biggest obstacle is time management. Figuring out a system of how and when I’m going to take the photos has been working for me, but, at the same time, I work more instinctively. I don’t have a lot of time to sit and think about it, especially because I want to have volume.

What is something that you would’ve liked to know before you started your thesis year?

You get to do a lot of experimenting, which is not something that I realized before. I stressed about how concrete things needed to be, but the first semester it is all about research. You are still moulding what your idea is going to be, and you can try all sorts of things. I think that people shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, or trying different ideas before settling. April is always emphasizing that people’s ideas should be looser, so that there can be different pathways to explore and take. Growing from something very concrete is harder.

Who are some professors at OCAD that made a positive impact in your education?

Nicolas Pye, Derek Sullivan who is a Sculpture prof, and Lee Henderson. Usually, my favorite profs are those who give really interesting examples of other artists, because I feel inspired in their classes.

 

To see more of Sabrina’s work, you can visit her portfolio, and follow her on instagram. To know more about Slobrina, check out her music account.

 

Interview by Ana Luisa Bernárdez

Friday Art Crush: Alejandro Rizzo Nervo

Friday Art Crush is an interview series highlighting the work of Photography students in their thesis year at OCAD U. We grab a coffee and chat about what they have been exploring, and they share great advice for working on a year-long project. The series was created and led by Morgan Sears-Williams; this year, it has been taken over by Ana Luisa Bernárdez.

This week, Ana chatted with Alejandro Rizzo, a Photo major in his fifth year.

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What is the main topic of research for your thesis?

My thesis researches the current social, economical and political state of my home country, Venezuela. It does not really encompass what has happened historically, but some of what’s happening right now. It deals with socialism, and topics of communism and capitalism.  

What has been your strategy for encompassing this very complex topic in a single body of work?

Especifically with my thesis, even though it is a work about Venezuela and a different part of the world, I try to execute it in a way that can be understood universally by everyone regardless of their background or political stance. It has characteristics that relate directly to Venezuela, but the way I choose to depict it is through symbolic representations. I think it can be understood by anybody who stands in front of it. Of course, it needs text to go along with it; once you have that, you should be able to understand what’s happening in the image, without necessarily having a background on Venezuela.

Having little to no access to taking photographs in Venezuela, what are your tactics for creating a visual narrative that talks about this current crisis from afar?

What helps me is to keep a connection with Venezuela, knowing what’s happening and what is being dealt with down there. I’ve been making my thesis based on both found and taken images. Based on my research, I am able to search specific images in Google that will help me develop a collage. I mix them with my original photographs, giving them a new meaning, and making them express what I want to show.

I am interested in knowing more about the way you construct these images conceptually.

The first thing I do is I try to look for models or people that somehow resemble the people I grew up with. I look for people who could fit with what you would find in a country like Venezuela, which is very multicultural, so for me it is really easy to find models in Toronto, because it is a very multicultural place. We also have very strong visual characteristics in the two main political sides in Venezuela; for example, the opposition is usually represented with a variety of colours, from blue to yellow and orange, and the chavismo has always used the colour red in abundance. Some of these symbols help create the narrative. At the end of the day, my project is not meant to be a literal representation of what is happening. I am far away and, like you said, the situation is very complex. Rather, I try to narrow it down to symbolic representations about values, consciousness, ethics, conducts, etc.

Tell me a little bit about what you presented for your final critique last semester.

I handed in three different constructed images printed mural size, 44×60 inch. The first one talks about the military: in the picture, a soldier is stepping on a pile of books. Again, not a literal representation, but a symbolic translation of what happens.

The second picture shows a bill printing machine printing a lot of bolívares, the Venezuelan currency. It talks about hyperinflation and how the Venezuelan government has tried to fix it by printing more bills.

The third picture shows someone handing one US dollar bill, and millions of bolívares flying around it. The image deals with the value of the US dollar in Venezuela, and it shows you how little the bolívar is worth.

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How do you see your work evolving this semester?

I’m still going to be working with the idea of mural-size tableau images, I think it is working for me. This semester I’m going to explore topics of religion and how it is an enormous source of hope for the people who are still in Venezuela. Also, how santería has grown and become one of many ways to resist and emotionally survive, a gateway reinforced by the government, to distract their supporters from the harsh reality Venezuela is going through.

How was the process of choosing a topic? Was it clear for you from the beginning, or did you struggle? I think this is a source of anxiety for people going into thesis year.

Some people feel intimidated by the word “thesis”. It is nerve wracking, but it depends on how people deal with concepts and their own ideas. If someone came to me scared and confused about what they’re going to do, I would tell them to revisit what they’ve done in the past. If they have made projects that are somehow linked by a topic, dig into that.

Specifically in my case, I was always dealing with three topics throughout my journey at OCAD. I was always exploring politics in Venezuela, Queer theories and anything related to being queer and from the LGBTQ+ community, also, dealing with my mind, and understanding the depths of my dreams and nightmares. For me, it was very easy to choose Venezuela as a topic because it is something I grew up with. Ever since I was a kid, there were always chats about politics around me, and I was exposed to frightening events which evolved into a handful of traumas that I need to squeeze out from me.

 

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Final critique, Fall 2018

 

In terms of your experience doing thesis, what have been difficulties and obstacles, and what has helped?

It is definitely a big challenge to work on a big year-long project, after you followed guidelines for three years. What helped the most was to continue digging, reading, looking at images, both contemporary and historical. Keeping your brain up and running helps a lot with thesis. I personally struggle sitting down and actually doing the work, but one thing that definitely helped was to plan out how my days were going to be. Last year, I had the opportunity to do a self-directed program in Florence. I think for me the challenge was then, rather than this year, because I was forced to undergo the same self-directed experience.

What is a piece of advice you would’ve liked to know before you started?

I’m not sure, I was kind of expecting thesis to be what it is. What I would advice to people who don’t know what it is all about is: research. Start your research early and keep researching throughout the year. There are papers to be handed in, and alongside your work you need to show what you’ve been investigating and looking at. I would encourage people to start researching and thinking about it before the semester starts. But also, don’t expect your work to be what you envisioned in the first place, it is going to change and evolve. It might end up being something completely different, and that is okay.

Can you name some professors that you think people should definitely take classes with? 

April Hickox, she knows dozens of artists that may relate somehow to whichever your topics are. Meera Margaret Singh, she is very knowledgeable about current issues, and is able to help you structure your own thoughts. Kate Schneider, she holds a degree in Political Science and she is very resourceful. And Peter Sramek, also very knowledgeable, of great help around techniques and shoot approaches, and tries to work around your ideas.

Interview by Ana Luisa Bernárdez

Friday #ArtCrush: Cassandra Keenan

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Cassandra Keenan, a fourth year photography student in thesis. 

In this series, Cassie and Morgan talk about working with family relationships, documenting physical objects and exploring the truths/untruths of family histories.

Who or what are your main inspirations?

My main inspirations are honestly the people around me, I love talking to my fellow classmates and professors about everything, it helps me stay connected to not only the people I surround myself with, but also my art. The inspiration for my art also comes very naturally to me, and I find during moments of connection with others is when I come up with some of my best work, and most of the time it is during the most random moments, that’s what I love about art and inspiration, there is no time line.

What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?

I mostly work with very personal subject matters, pretty much anything that is effecting me at the moment, or what I feel strongly about. Nothing is truly off topic for me as an artist, so far I have worked on many projects with a subject matter which relates to myself personally, this includes my mental issues, such as my severe panic attacks and anxiety, continuing all the way to helping me mourn the death of my grandparents.

I try not to limit myself or my art, especially that of my photography. This is because my art has always been an emotional outlet, and I have always felt like it is the only way I could truly communicate what I’m feeling or going through at that moment, my art is my form of stress relief.  Of course it is bound to change in the future, but that’s the fun of being an artist, you are never truly tied down

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Cassandra Keenan, B.B.Y.A, Digital Inkjet Print, 2018

What body of work are you working on right now?

At the moment, I am mainly focused on finishing my Thesis and Grad Ex work called “Film”, it revolves around nine 8mm film reels which were all recorded by my grandfather, starting in the early 60s. The film captured moments of my grandparents young adult life, to their wedding and honeymoon, all the way until my mother and uncle were young children.

During my initial research at the beginning of the year I was mainly focusing on the documentation of my family history, especially that of my mothers side, but as I interview my family and looked at the many documents, I quickly came to realize that alot of the stories that I was told growing up was not told accurately, mostly because I was too young to know the truth.

My thesis then took a major turn, and instead of searching for the truth pertaining to the documentation of my family’s history, I wanted to look at the untold truths and document those moments. This is when I found the films again and got them digitalized, this was the first time in about twenty years that I saw them again, and they quickly became the main focus of my thesis.  I began to solely look at the nine films as the manifestation of all the untold truths that were told over my life time through the use of the editing that was done to each of them, I wanted to explore and identify each edit and untold truth within each of the individual films, which now stood in place for my family’s documented history and from there the series “Film” was formed, the series contains four parts, “Life”, “The Truth & The Edit”, “Glitch” and “Proof”, all of these names resembling different aspects related to film and archiving.

What draws you to the act of documenting these film rolls involved in your body of work, and how do you believe this adds to the significance of your work?

The Truth & The Edit” is the part of the series “Film” where I document the film reels. The work consists of fourteen photographs, each documenting the physical elements of the untold truths and manipulations that had been woven into my family’s history, these became very significant to my work, because they resemble the physical manifestation of my concept.

The first eight photographs are documenting the four film containers and their respective reels, the photographs depicting the four containers, “B.B.Y.A”, “Shower”, “Honeymoon”, and “Unknown #1”, each resemble the truth which are contained within them, and the labels on the front reflect on the moments captured within, they are the ‘real’ and the ‘truth’.  The next four photographs document the four reels that were once contained in the pervious containers, “B.B.Y.A Reel”, “Shower Reel”, “Honeymoon Reel”, and “Unknown Reel #1”. These four photographs represent the manipulation and the untold truths that were being told within my family’s history, and the editing that had been done to each reel can be clearly seen within some of the photographs, these edit points show that someone had physically edited and removed a piece of information from the recorded history.

The last six photographs document the small six film reels, “Made in Canada”, “Shar”, “1 Florida”, “2 Florida”, “Unknown Reel #2” and “QUE”. These six photographs also depict the untold truths and lies within my family history, some of the reels can be seen missing large sections of the film, which obviously mean they have been heavily edited, while others have lost their labels, leaving the contents of the physical reel unknown to the holder.

I was drawn to documenting the film reels and their containers, because as my thesis moved forward I could no longer see them as the absolute truth of my family’s recorded history, I began to only see them as their edits and nothing else, and it came to a point where I felt I had to document them as their own absolute truth, that being documenting the real and the edit. 

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Cassandra Keenan, B.B.Y.A Reel, Digital Inkjet Print, 2018

As your thesis explores familial relationships, how do you navigate working with a topic that is so personal? How has your relationship with your work evolved over the course of the year?

I actually found it really easy to navigate such a personal topic this time around, I was lucky enough to have a support system behind me to not only support the path I decided to go on, but also aid me when it had gotten difficult. But the idea of my thesis actually originated from a series that I worked on the pervious year, this series also focused on family history, but that time it focused on my fathers parents, who had passed a couple years ago. That series, “Waves of Memory”, was very hard on me emotionally, it fully drained me because even after a couple years I was still mourning the lost of my grandparents, and the series had opened old wounds, and as time went on it helped me navigate these emotions, and lead me to where I am now, where I can be more focused and understanding of the information laid out in front of me.

You often talk about family history in the context of the ‘truths’ and histories that are passed on generationally, but including the lies and untold truths that these stories hold. How have you decided to play with these ideas in your work to extend or mould the truth/untruths with you approach and contextualize your work?

I came to use the edits and untold truths to tell my family’s history because of the fact throughout my life these truths where only told to please a child’s ears and wonder, but now as an adult I seek to understand the truth of my own history.

With finding the film reels again, I began to question the documentation of my history, especially when my grandfather watched them, and mentioned how heavily edited they were, when I questioned him, he said that every film had to be reviewed by his parents (my great grandparents), and anything they didn’t agree with, must be removed and destroyed without question, so with alot of the reels you can see that they are missing large portions of their film. This made me very curious about the edits and made me want to explore them even more.

Is there anyone who you would like to work with in the future?

I don’t know if there is anyone I would like to work with in the future specifically. I am always open to working with anyone, especially those who I connect really well with, and can have a great back and forth creative conversation with, I do always work my ideas out with people who are around me, but I haven’t actually collaborated with anyone yet. I’m hoping in the future to open that door and work on some amazing work, just haven’t found that person yet.

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Cassandra Keenan, #15, Digital Inkjet Print, 2017

How do you feel the thesis critique process has helped you with your critical thinking skills within your art practice?

The thesis critique process has definitely helped grow my critical thinking skills when it comes to my own work, even when we are critiquing another persons work I am still able to grow as an individual artist.

I am surrounded by so many wonderful artists, with their own amazing histories and point of views, It’s never just one point of view looking at my work. Having those many differences giving their opinions is very valuable to me as an artists, it helps me grow and look outside of my comfort bubble, and I owe it to them for helping me grow.

Even the bad or harsh critiques I take to heart, I know its not against me personally, my fellow classmates want me to grow and do better, I take every critique as an opportunity to grow. 

Are there any specific OCADU Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?

Simon Glass and Nicholas Pye are two OCADU Faculty which come to mind right away, I had the privilege of having both of them as professors for my main photography courses. I honestly believe I wouldn’t be as strong as an artists as I am right now if it wasn’t for both of them. They both pushed me, well beyond what I thought was possible of my own art, I say this in the best way possible, they both saw that I could grow and create more meaningful art, and the art that I created for them, were the first time I was truly making art for myself.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?

The one piece of advice I would give to someone starting out in photography is don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid to be yourself, to experiment, to try something new or scary, and don’t be afraid to grow. It is when you are afraid that you truly stop growing.

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.

Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams

About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative non-institutional spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.

Friday #ArtCrush: Abigail Holt

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Abigail, a photography student in thesis. 

In this series, Abigail and Morgan talk about using symbolism and allegories in photography, examining your cultural identities and using text and images simultaneously.

Who or what are your main photographic inspirations?

A lot of my photographic inspirations aren’t even photographic, but artists I’m inspired by right now are María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Adriana Varejão, and Anna Bella Geiger. But I mostly get inspiration from reading—translating ideas, theory, literature, poetry, into a visual language and expressing it in my own way. The process of image making is almost like writing for me (and writing like image-making). I like reading Caribbean authors / theorists and Spanish poetry. Also a sense of sensuality, like that found in the natural world or in music.

What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?

Immigration, family, language, sensuality, girlhood, fruits, spirituality, soccer, history (memory), the Caribbean, land, maps, creolization, colonialism.

It’s common that you use text and images together. What is your process of deciding how to incorporate text into/ on to your images?


Usually the text and images follow a common theme, or maybe a common feeling towards subtly communicating an idea. So one example is that I made a book that was like pieces of a movie, with images, captions, and “poems” written in script format. I guess the way I mix text and image together has to do with affect, I kind of work more intuitively.

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What body of work are you working on right now?

I’m working on my thesis right now and a few side projects have been born from that. I’ve been playing with abstracting video stills of Carnival focusing on notions of double performance, masking, rhythm and Caribbean codes inspired by Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s theories in The Repeating Island and music (calypso, cumbia, samba, mapale, lavways), it’s fun sometimes I dance when I make them.

You use a lot of symbolism and metaphors in your work, for instance the works with fruits cut open, or flower petals creased or held together. What is this process of using symbols that have a meaning to you culturally or personally and how does that translate to audiences?


I use symbols, allegories, and metaphors because I like implying rather than telling, creating a feeling to express meaning. I guess it’s in the way of seeing or looking that you’re able to create these indicators or signifiers. Cultural symbolism can sometimes go unseen, it can be frustrating but especially in my thesis I’ve learned to embrace and play with that to express certain ideas, like about what is seen and unseen, what is considered center and what is considered periphery—and why.

In your thesis work, your images have a dream like quality to them. As if we are looking in on your internal thoughts and trying to decode the symbols of aesthetics or collages. Can you speak to this process of manipulation in your images?

‘Dreamlike’ is interesting because there’s a tradition of magic-realism and fabulism in the Caribbean. I’ve tried to create allegory-landscapes that act as embodiments of Internality masquerading as Externality but instead of being about me, it’s about Caribbeanness. The processes of visual manipulation are inspired by the cultural manipulation found in creolization, such as: plurality, fluidity, openness, secrecy, ambiguity, multiplicity, multivocality, multi-layering, transition, transformation, mimicry, doubling, carnivalization, diffraction, recomposition—it’s a long list. Basically it started with wandering through Trinidad, experimenting with a piece of glass / prism in front of my lens.

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While you use a lot of text in your work, there are also multiple projects that use old images and reconsider them in another light by collaging, composition or adding/subtracting from the image itself. How does this reconsider the original quality and purpose of the images?
The old images I use are of my family, so the compositions I make from them I call altars (or I add gold and call them saints). I always mention the images of my family as feeling filled with light or “breathing light like votive candles”. So when I make these new compositions I guess it’s about revealing something I see within the images, and of course the objects I use in the collages also add meaning (so like in one series alongside images of my family I used fruits / herbs from West Indian grocery stores that have healing properties).

How do you think your practice has grown over the course of your time at OCADU?
It’s kind of just grown naturally with me but also has become more informed as I’ve learned more in studio and lecture classes. I’ve gotten better and expressing and articulating my ideas visually. I’ve developed my own style because of those things.

Is there anyone who you would like to work with in the future?

Yeah! I would like to work with other emerging artists or people who have ideas of doing things differently. Of course it would also be nice to work with other Caribbean artists.

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Are there any specific OCAD U Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?

Dot Tuer is so intelligent, she teaches art and history very critically and insightfully, things she’s said in lecture have stayed with me, she has so much knowledge and wild stories. Simon Glass and Nick Pye have always been encouraging and challenging, they always have lots of insightful ideas and feedback. The photo techs at the cage are great too, they’re so smart and friendly!!

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?
For me when I was starting to pursue my interest in photography (pre-university) people made it seem really stale and clinical (like the inside of a Henry’s), as if there are certain guidelines and rules that you need to follow—or equipment you need to buy if you want to take a “good” photograph. That doesn’t really encourage creativity, or like, basic enjoyment—it represses it. So I think you should find your influences and interests, follow anything you’re curious about, question conventions, experiment, be open, play around, do your own research, take note of the things that leave impressions on you and think about why. Develop your own “language”, musicality, poetics, and way of seeing.

You can see Abigail’s work on their instagram, and at OCADU’s GradEx from May 3-6, 2018!

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.

Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams

About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative non-institutional spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.

Friday #ArtCrush: Rebecca Rose Vaughan

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Rebecca Rose Vaughan, a fifth year photography student in thesis. 

In this series, Rebecca and Morgan talk about photography and the gaze and working within a feminist lens.

 

Who or what are your main inspirations?

My main inspiration is just nature, our connection to nature or lack thereof and how that affects the way that we view everything around us.

 

What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?

I tend to spend the most time working on subject matter surrounding the body and how it is represented in the media and our everyday lives. I feel the body is always a very political subject. It offers an ever-changing subject matter which can easily reflect the social and political themes prominent at the time. More specifically I usually create work about bodies that have been consistently marginalized throughout history and popular culture, these can include queer bodies, POC, women or female identifying, and trans persons as well as anyone who also feels that we need to redefine how we judge, view, protect and love our bodies.

 

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Rebecca Rose Vaughan, Bodies are Space: Tara, digital inkjet print, 2018

 

You work a lot with portraiture, what do you think makes an effective portrait?

Ultimately, I think the best part of a good portrait is simplicity. There’s nothing wrong with a really carefully crafted and intricate portrait but I often find what I’m looking for through lots of natural light and a good lens. For me effectiveness in a portrait means the viewer can see something special about that person through their portrait.

 

How do you establish a trusting relationship with the people you photograph so they feel open enough to be vulnerable with you?

This is so important to me especially with my thesis work where all my subjects are nude, it is incredibly vital to my work that I am on the same page with my model before any photographs are taken, and they have had the opportunity to ask me any questions about the work, myself or the process. I have done a lot of self-portraiture which I often lead with when talking to someone I’m going to photograph. This starts us off in a place where they can be assured I understand how unnerving it can be to have the camera pointed at you and that I’m sensitive to the experience. I make sure my subject understands exactly what my goal is with the shoot and is consenting to it before we start. I also find that my confidence in giving direction during a shoot shows the person in front of the camera that I’ve got their back, its not on them to be perfect (what does that mean anyways) but just to be themselves. Once I get some good shots I always pause and show them some of the images especially and really good one, everyone is significantly more comfortable after they see a beautiful photograph of themselves.

 

 

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Rebecca Rose Vaughan, Bodies are Space, Plexi detail one (Installation shot), 2018

 

What body of work are you working on right now?

Currently I am working on my thesis work which will be an image and sculpture-based installation. I have been experimenting with sculptures made from acrylic materials like plexi-glass and portraits of nude bodies. This current work sits on this line between documentary and sculpture/installation and aims to influence viewers to rethink how bodies are valued in 2-dimensional vs 3-dimensional forms and concurrently how they are allowed to take up space or not.

 

Your work challenges the male gaze. With substantial discourse around the female/women’s gaze in photography, what do you believe is the women’s gaze in photography? How does it subvert or challenge traditional ideas of the (male) gaze?

Traditional ideas within the male gaze encourage assumptions, judgements and opinions which from my point of view feed into very specific power dynamics that are based in an intrinsically patriarchal society. To challenge or subvert this gaze there firstly needs to be an awareness and acknowledgement of it. I think the female gaze is essentially the acknowledgement of these deeply imbedded habits and beliefs and it does not need to be anything else. Other perspectives on the female gaze will place it in opposition to the male gaze but I do not feel this is necessary, the female gaze should simply be a step in the right direction to accepting all kinds of people, bodies, and practices.
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Rebecca Rose Vaughan, Bodies are Space, Installation shot with plexi, 2018

 

Do you see yourself as a political and feminist artist? What do you believe or see as the line between being a political artist and using or referencing politics in your work?

I do see myself as a political and feminist artist because I believe that the body is and will always be inherently political in its existence within the arts and media. I see it as a choice of the artist whether they want to place their work on one side of the line between a political artist and referencing politics or engage with it at all. Art is always going to be very subjective, viewers will read what they want to out of the work no matter the intention of the artist to be overtly political or not.

 

In parts of your work, you are using different physical materials and placing them on your photographic works. What is the effect of this and how does it contribute to the overall works both conceptually and aesthetically?

There is so much visual language in the world today, through multiple social media platforms fuelled by visual imagery and the internet we spend so much time staring at screen which serves everything through a two-dimensional platform.  By integrating physical objects and materials into my work alongside the imagery I am reintegrating these bodies into the 3-dimensional space. Conceptually I am referencing minimalism and sculpture and the politics around giving objects and/or bodies space to exist within a space. Aesthetically I think the plasticity of these materials points towards a common, clean and colourful ‘aesthetic’ that is so common all over social media.

 

In your time at OCAD you’ve been working in multi-disciplinary mediums. How do you think that has added to your experience in arts education and how does that contribute to the way you think about approach making art?

Working with a multidisciplinary approach to my studies and my work has been integral in helping me place my interests and work in the canon of contemporary art today. I have focused a lot on printmaking as well as photography alongside some sculpture as well. Through these mediums I have explored much of the same subject matter and themes and been able to see how they change with the introduction of a new materials and mediums.

 

Is there anyone who you would like to work with in the future?

In the future I mostly hope that I can find community within the friends and fellow artists I know. I think the most valuable thing you can do in the arts community is work with and support each other. Especially when we engage in creating artwork with potential to make an impact.

 

Are there any specific OCAD U Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?

In 3rd year I had a class with Kate Schneider which was honestly a huge turning point for how I view myself as an artist and my work in general. The form of support and encouragement she gives her students was something I reacted really well too. Kotama Buobane has also been my professor a number of times and has always challenged me in a really frustrating but beneficial way. In general the fact that most professors in the photo department at OCADU are practicing artists is inspiring.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?

To someone starting out I would say the physical practice in photography is your friend. Though there is so much digital advancement in photography and other mediums it’s so important to remember where photography came from and feed a practice that is not only digital.

 

 

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.

Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams

About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative non-institutional spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.

Friday #ArtCrush: Syd Patterson

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Syd Patterson, a photography student in Directed Studio. 

In this series Syd and Morgan discuss work ethic, portraits and vulnerability, and photographing your community.

Who or what are your main photographic inspirations?

Whatever I’m curious about, anything genuine that interests me I suppose… Photography seems to have given me a means to explore different aspects of life around me; everything that I’m into practicing creatively all seems to be related in one way or another.

 

What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?

People mostly. Generally I do portraits or document some kind of interaction with the body, sometimes I try to convey the intimacy of our connection to place and display the subtleties of body’s relationship to space and time.

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You work a lot with 35mm, what do you think are the values of working with 35mm analog vs digital?

It’s really just a preference I think but in the cases when I shoot 35mm I find that you have to be more precautious about what you shoot, or at least be more certain when you take a picture because you’re more aware of how many shots it limits you to.

 

What body of work are you working on right now?

A collection of zines I hope to have ready for GradEx alongside a series of select prints. Lately my work has been revolving around aspects of community and physical collaborative efforts like building something or being proud of where you’re from.

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Your portraits are vulnerable and convey the obvious trust these folks have with you. How do you develop this kind of trust with people you are photographing to make them comfortable?

I’m not much of a talker and I really appreciate being able to listen, visually photographs can say a lot of different things. I’ve come to learn that I’m happiest with the photographs I take that are the most genuine, whatever that means. I like to think that authenticity is something you can translate without words so I search for that in my subject matter and wait until I can seize an opportunity to capture a moment worthwhile.

 

What drew you to photographing skateboarders and skateboard culture?

The energy for sure. It takes a lot out of you but it also gives you a lot back. It’s very meticulous but also very gratifying.

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How do you think your art practice has evolved or changed over your years at OCAD?

Going to school taught me that I need to have a work ethic at what you want to be good at, so I suppose that I learned to keep practicing.

 

Does research have an influence in how you produce your work and your art process?

Lots of “field research”.

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How do you think the critique process in Directed Studio has helped the way you view your work and process?

Contextually it helped me understand where I want to go with photography, I view it as a labour of love more than anything else and critique allows you to hone in on your talents.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?

Don’t be afraid to fuck up, get back up when you fall down and keep trying until you get something right…then repeat that process again and again.

 

 

Check out Syd’s Instagram and his website, and view his work

at OCAD’s Graduate Exhibition from May 3rd – May 6th

~

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.

Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams

About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative non-institutional spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.

Friday #ArtCrush: Patrick Corrigan

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Patrick Corrigan, a photography student in thesis. 

In this series, Patrick and Morgan talk about ideas of simulation in photography, constructing light boxes and cinematic inspirations.

Can you walk us through your process of developing a concept or research grounds for your work, and starting to produce the work(s)?

I try to work locally with my concepts. Self-reflection has proven to be the most genuine means of finding any kind of subject matter that really feels like I can speak factually on. After landing on a topic I feel is important enough to warrant further investigation I try to decide on how I can create something that best conveys my idea through image-based media.

Who or what are your main artistic inspirations?

In my past photographic works I have taken to making miniature sets which were captured in the style of film-stills, inspired by romantic cinema tropes in films like Casablanca. Recently, however, I’ve been trying to materialize a conceptual work which has been highly influenced by digital spaces and simulation. Ridley Scott’s movies have also played a big role in shaping my conceptual outlook on projects.

What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?

In most, if not all of my work, the underlying concepts of the fake and the real are always present. Photography has a very unique way of providing commentary on subjective perception using semiotics.

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Patrick Corrigan, Untitled 2, lightbox installation – digital image, 2018

What role does research play in your art practice?

Research plays a fairly large part in my practice. A lot of what I have encountered in my own explorations of photography and image making have already been discussed by various theorists, so having a published source always helps to provide a more fortified concept.

What body of work are you working on right now?

I am currently working on my thesis work which is centred around the creation of various lightboxes which will be filled with plants. The plants will create a silhouetted projection onto the image plane effectively acting as a representation and a depiction of the object in real-time.

Can you speak to the dream-like aesthetic of the images in your thesis work and the relationship between using lightbox’s (physical objects and materials) and the photographs?

Each lightbox contains red, green, and blue LED lights which project and diffract around the enclosed plants creating the aforementioned aesthetic. I felt that the LEDs best relayed the idea of digital spaces as many computer screens use a similar means of backlighting. The photographs, when viewed in on a computer or cellphone screen can communicate in a similar fashion as they are effectively representing the same information as the lightbox.

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Patrick Corrigan, Installation Lightbox Image, basswood and plexiglass, 2018

You are working with this idea of simulation and deception vs reality and physical materials, and the ambiguity between these thoughts. What do you hope viewers discover or contemplate while viewing your work?

I hope that viewers can adopt a principle of ambiguity within every image while viewing my work. By affording each image properties attributed to both fake and real content the audience’s ability to effectively interpret the artist or author is reinforced. The ambiguity that exists within the work also becomes a demonstration of how simulated content can take on its own physical properties.

What is the process of creating a lightbox?

I have previously worked with found objects such as shelving units, which I have then turned into frames that would make for an appropriate lightbox. After finding the frame, a back paneI is fitted with LEDs which vary depending on the intended projection and the objects are sealed within the box using plexiglass and frosted mylar. I am currently in the process of learning how to create the frames in the woodshop, which I feel will create a more substantial final piece.

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Patrick Corrigan, Untitled 1, lightbox installation – digital image, 2018

How do you think your process has evolved over the past couple years?

My process has evolved immensely over the last few years. Early on in my schooling I found it difficult to create any concept-based work and was purely aesthetically driven. As I progressed through my education, I have been able to derive concepts directly from my own life experiences and the resulting work becomes something that I truly enjoy making.

Are their any specific OCAD U Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?

A lot of the upper-year photography faculty have really provided me with an outlet to voice my crazy ideas and have not been afraid to tell me when they are not as effectively executed as they could be with more exploration. Kotama Bouabane and Nick Pye have been invaluable resources in years passed while Simon Glass has been a huge help in developing my work this year.

What do you find the most valuable about the critique process that you’ve experienced in Thesis?

Having a class full of educated artists to critique your work regularly is not something which can be easily replicated outside of the university setting, I am extremely grateful for being able to show my work to my peers and receive well-founded opinions on the work along with feedback.

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Patrick Corrigan, Love, digital inkjet print, 2015

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?

I think everyone has their own approach to making images and that each work should serve to improve on that unique element. That being said, one of my instructors once advised against making ‘easy images’ which is a sentiment I would echo. Try to make work emphasizes how you see the world.

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.

Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams

About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative non-institutional spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.

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