Archive for the 'Interview' Category



Found on Flickr: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

This is another installment in our continuing series where we talk to photographers whose work we’ve appreciated on Flickr.   

This week we feature Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

cinemafia: I believe, right away, most people would look at your photography and compare it to cinema. Not just films in general, but passionate art house, perhaps even noir cinema. There is a lot going on in your photographs that communicates this kind of intangible feeling, be it the rule-of-thirds composition, the available (often low-key) lighting, the telecine-like vignette. And, your images, especially those of people, always seem to tell a dramatic story – without words. Perhaps it’s the mood or expression of a single person, or the “slice of life” scenes you often encounter. Do you take any specific steps to evoke this kind of experience? Do you ever do any pre-visualization, often used in film production, before photographing your subjects?

Tommy Ga-Ken Wan: The films of Wong Kar-Wai have undoubtedly been the biggest influence on my visual style. I first discovered them when I was 15 – not long after I started to take photographs – and, although at that time I lacked the emotional intelligence to understand or appreciate their stories and characters, I fell in love with the images. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I discovered the photography of Eric Hands, which, although generally very different in style and content from my own work, brought the everyday alive for me and made me realize that the images I found beautiful, in Wong Kar-Wai and in general, were not just found in cinema but in the world around me, and that I could capture these. That said, I don’t take any steps to evoke or force them: I prefer to observe rather than direct, take pictures rather than make them. Pre-visualization, then, is something that I’ve never done either. I prefer my approach, anyway: It means that, unlike other, more imaginative creative pursuits like writing, I don’t satisfy my passion alone in a room, but am forced to throw myself into real life and the things that happen around me if I am to take the photos that please me. 

cinemafia: I know there are a few particular directors of photography whose work you follow. Could you tell us some of them, and what influence they may have had on your own work?

Tommy Ga-Ken Wan: The films of Michael Mann have been another important influence on my work, both in their visual style and in the depth of their characters. I once read somewhere that Mann doesn’t make films very often because he spends so much time researching and developing the characters. In my case the “characters” are real people, not fictional creations, but I hope that my photographs suggest all the same – a narrative, a psychological complexity, what a remarkable thing it is to be a human being. Although I can’t speak for Mann’s reasons for doing so, this is why I like to shoot at night: not only is it more visually interesting in its light and colour, people are different at night. During the day there is work to be done, but it is when the skies are dark that people become themselves. When the work is done, the self – what is going on in one’s heart and mind – is not so easily escaped or avoided.

cinemafia: On your website you note that your life with photography began and reached a critical level between the ages of 14 and 17. Having gone so far in such a short time, and at a such a young age, what are your feelings about having been able to tell these stories and share the ideas you have with so many people?

Tommy Ga-Ken Wan: In William McIlvanney’s novel Laidlaw, Detective Jack Laidlaw says (if memory serves, I’ve lost my copy) that there are two kinds of professionals: the first is the person who makes a career out of something and is competent enough at doing it that he gets by. The second has so much passion for what he does that a career in it came as a byproduct. I certainly belong to the second category. Before I started working as a photographer, it was more than a hobby, but a passion, even an obsession, and so it became inevitable that everyone thought of me as “the guy with the camera” which, at least from a professional point of view, was and is very beneficial. As for sharing my ideas and telling my stories with and to other people, I love it. I think that, while to create may fulfill some need in the artist, art is primarily created to be shown and shared. For me, at least, when I share a piece of art with somebody (not necessarily something I’ve made myself) it is to say “Do you understand me? Do you get me? Does this move you in the same way as it moves me?”

cinemafia: How did your work in photography affect your outside life with family and friends, your schooling? What were your experiences meeting other professional photographers, most of whom must have been much your senior?

Tommy Ga-Ken Wan: How has photography affected my outside life? I have struggled with this question. Although, as I’ve written, it means I throw myself into things more, do things I wouldn’t normally do, and it encourages me to embrace any new experience that comes my way, when I read in Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda the line “This was his great strength. It was his great weakness, too, an excess of detachment from his own life,” it resonated with me, and I considered that perhaps photography was detrimental in that it detached me from reality, prevented me from making a real connection with the events that were happening around me, made me a spectator rather than a participant. I began to wonder whether people invited me to parties because they really wanted me there, or because they wanted me to take photographs. But I know who my real friends are, and, on the other hand, I’ve met so many wonderful people and seen and done so many interesting things because I am a photographer. And to be able to make a living out of this, I consider myself very lucky indeed.

cinemafia: One of the elements in your work I pick up on right away, and you even make a declaration of it in your Flickr profile, is your propensity for truth, observation, documentation. Your images certainly bring this sense of the real, the world as-is, held up for all to regard. Do you feel that, as a photographer, you have an obligation to tell your stories from life, uncolored? Is there any instance where you believe your own personal bias or attitude may have changed the way you photographed a subject, or how you presented those photographs?

Tommy Ga-Ken Wan: I love nature, being in nature: beaches, forests, hills and mountains, watching a sunset. But I’ve never been interested in photographs of these things. All art, whether a photograph, painting, novel or film, speaks to me primarily because it gets the human condition. Art is a human endeavor, and the art that gets me most concerns itself with what human beings do, what we have done and, as is especially important to science fiction and fantasy, what we could do.

“Obligation to tell your stories from life, uncoloured.” Obligation seems like too strong a word, but perhaps it is the right one. I think we as human beings have an obligation to be truthful to others and perhaps even more importantly to ourselves. This doesn’t necessarily have to manifest itself in our art – that’s a very personal thing – but in my case, yes, photography has been profoundly helpful to me in discovering the truth about myself and how I feel about the things that happen around me. To photograph a person is, for me, to consider more than light and lines, but the expressions on their faces and the way they think and feel. To photograph a person, and then to look at that photograph afterwards, is for me to think very hard about them, and about myself. But of course there is personal bias: cameras may be objective, but people aren’t, and it is a person who decides what is included in the frame and what is excluded, and the moment at which the shutter is pressed. The subjects of my photographs are often described as pensive, reflective, melancholy. A friend once told me I had a very romanticized view of life and the world. I’m not sure if he meant it with a capital R or not, but I think I know what he means, and perhaps that’s my bias, perhaps the old chestnut about the image revealing as much of the photographer as the subject is, in my case, true.

Continue reading ‘Found on Flickr: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan’

Found on Flickr: Claire Martin

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This is another installment in our continuing series where we talk to photographers whose work we’ve appreciated on Flickr.

This week we feature Claire Martin.

cinemafia: In your artist’s statement you indicate that you moved into photography from the field of social work because of its ability to affect change. Could you elaborate on the qualities of photography that give it a greater power over other forms of social work?

Claire Martin: Well, I wouldn’t say it has greater power, just that it also has power to create change. An image can’t create change all on its own; it needs the momentum of people in other industries like social work, politics and law, etc. to put the feelings that a photo incites into practice, so they work together.  An image only has to be seen to be understood, so there is potential to reach a very large audience with photography. That said, if an image strikes a chord with people, it can change the way they think about certain things and in turn their actions may reflect this change.

cinemafia: Is the end result, the images themselves, of a greater importance than the process of taking them? Why or why not?

Claire Martin: The process of taking the image is about changing and challenging my own ideas and perceptions, a fairly self-indulgent process. The end result, hopefully, if it’s any good, is about changing and challenging a broader group of people – and if you can do this, it is invariably more important. Personally though, I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t express myself with photography.

cinemafia: How does having a camera in your hand change the outcome of what you do?

Claire Martin: Hmmmm, this is a difficult question. I guess it means I want something from the person I am photographing. I need to be clear in my intent because I am going to make public our encounter and hence certain aspects of their life. If you mean with regard to my social work background and creating change, this often means photographing people in unfortunate circumstances, so I need to be sensitive to their needs and the repercussions the photo may have on their lives. Mostly people don’t care, but it is worth considering. On a more literal level, having a camera definitely changes the outcome of events. Most people behave differently in front of a camera. It is a blessing when you find a person who is unaffected by the lens.

cinemafia: Have you personally seen any instances where the power of one photographer’s images was used to affect society in a negative way?

Claire Martin: I can’t think of any offhand. I tend to think of all the images that created change for the good, like Mary Ellen Mark’s pictures of Mother Theresa’s plight, the naked girl in a napalm attack in Vietnam by Nick Ut – countless pictures. But of course I am sure there are many examples of photography images used to affect society in a negative way. Recently, I saw a photo of John McCain having Thanksgiving dinner with his family, and the editor cropped it down to him sawing at the turkey with a maniacal grin on his face and published it this way. Uncropped, it was his whole family at the table with him carving for them. It’s definitely easy to manipulate the truth.

cinemafia: One of the running themes I see in your work is the sense of an anthropological pursuit. You seem to have a strong desire to arrive at unique faces of humanity that show themselves in the corners and niches of our world. You seek out the odd and quirky, the isolated, the disenfranchised. Could you describe how you go about finding your subjects, and why you choose them?

Claire Martin: You are right, I have always loved anthropology and studied it alongside my social work degree. Culture fascinates me. I seek out things I am interested in shooting, and I am interested in issues of social justice and quirky cultural niches, so when I hear about something odd or interesting to me, I do my best to explore those avenues. If this means financing a holiday to get there, I’ll do my best to do just that. If it’s in my area, I spend my spare time searching around trying to meet people who will let me photograph them.

cinemafia: Have there been any instances where a particularly interesting, potential subject turned you down?

Claire Martin: There are images that stay in my mind as vividly as photographs, but I never was able to take the picture – in particular, when I was in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. One huge, strong young man was dressed up as some kind of grizzly bear king with an Indian feather headpiece and a fur blanket wrapped around him – and it was so perfectly executed. The guy was an absolute vision. I crossed the road and initiated conversation, and I had my camera out, but he was so intense and aggressive and out of touch with reality. He started talking about all the nice young girls who had gone missing in the area and I freaked out and kindly excused myself and left. He didn’t want his photo taken and he was tapped. I wasn’t going to push it, although to this day I still think about what a perfectly amazing image it would have been.

Continue reading ‘Found on Flickr: Claire Martin’

Talking to…Photographer Mark Menjivar

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Food Artist | New York, NY | 1-Person Household | Runs small vegan bakery from her apartment. | 2009

What we eat reveals a lot about us. So as social experiments go, photographer Mark Menjivar stumbled on a great one by documenting the contents of peoples’ refrigerators with his photo project, “You Are What You Eat.” Over three years, Menjivar, a native of San Antonio, traveled to 20 communities in about 12 states and photographed 45 fridges (and he plans to do about 5-10 more before he wraps it up). You can see more of the photos on his web site.

Here, we talk to Menjivar about his time looking deep into the fridges of America.

You said you traveled the country for three years exploring the issue of hunger. Was that for this project or something else that this grew out of?
I was working as a project manager of sorts for a documentary on hunger by artist Michael Nye. Michael is great and really encouraged me to pursue my own project as we traveled. About half of the places I visited were due to working on that project, the others from my own dealings.

How did you find your subjects?
I have found people all different kinds of ways. At food banks, local pantries, restaurants, walking up to strangers on the street, etc. Some are family members or a friend-of-a-friend type thing, but most were strangers to me when I invited them to be a part of the project. 

I have really approached the project like a portrait project. When I am drawn to someone for some reason I ask them if they would like to be a part of the project. For me, it is not about getting as many people as I can but a diverse group.

How much explaining or convincing did you have to do? I’d imagine some people would just be naturally incredulous or suspicious.
For sure. I usually end up talking to them a bit before I tell them what I am doing. Most people think it is pretty odd, but only three or four people over three years have said no. I totally respect that as I would be pretty hesitant to let someone come home with me to photograph [my fridge]. There is always this awkward hesitation in the conversation at some point. Some people start to make excuses or say this is an off week. I really love these interactions and almost always have a good conversation with each person.  

Did you find people were embarrassed or shy about having you see their refrigerators?
Some. But most are pretty okay with it. The fridges are photographed “as is.” Nothing added, moved or taken away.

On your web site, you say these are refrigerators from “Vegetarians, Republicans, members of the NRA, those left out, the under appreciated, former soldiers in Hitler’s SS, dreamers, and so much more.” Tell us about the former soldier. How did you come upon him?
I met him at a food bank in the desert. He was a volunteer there and a really hard worker.  He is a food hoarder due to his past experiences with not having food as a POW. In his house there were probably 30 boxes of food lined up in the hallway, and the kitchen was packed. Each night he would head to the dumpsters to reclaim food that had been thrown out.  

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Carpenter/Photographer | San Antonio, TX | 3-Person Household | 12 Point Buck shot on family property. | 2008

I love the freezer packed with bags of a 12-point buck and a bottle of tequila. Did you find the owners matched their contents?
That family is actually one of the healthiest families that I met. They pretty much only eat meat from sources that they can identify. The meat is from a buck that he killed on his family’s land. He does not use any deer stands, but heads out on foot and sees it as a very respectful act. They also have huge garden beds in the backyard that they share produce from.  

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Talking to…Photographer Richard Gordon

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In his book American Surveillance photographer Richard Gordon takes on the topic of the ubiquity of surveillance cameras in the US. By documenting security cameras – in malls, buildings, musuems, on the streets – Gordon reminds us we’re being watched nearly all the time.

Gordon is a part-time instructor of photography at City College of San Francisco and Stanford Continuing Studies, and he’ll be a part of “Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera” at the Tate Modern in London in June 2010. He’ll also have four photographs at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from October 23 through January 2010. Here, he answered a few questions about the book and photography for us.

What was the origin of this project for you – the spark or series of events that made you want to do it?

I photograph the social landscape and began to notice what seemed like an exponential increase in surveillance cameras in January ’03 and began to photograph them as part of the urban landscape.

Are these photographs more the result of seeking out the surveillance cameras, or happening upon them?

I avidly sought them out for five or six weeks and quickly came to realize that it was not necessary; they were everywhere and I just go about my business and photograph them in day-to-day life and photography. I did eventually make some trips with the object of photographing them in different places.

Before this project did you have an accurate idea of the amount of surveillance cameras out there? Was it eye-opening?

I have no idea of the number of surveillance cameras then or now except that there are many more now than in ’03. Everything is eye-opening.

It is often difficult to photograph malls and institutions and even architecture in this day and age with security concerns. Did you ever experience problems when taking these photos – either from security or passersby?

Malls are private property and the law regarding photography in public and private places is different and I know the differences. The most obnoxious incident was with an assistant manager at a Safeway market. In general I did not have problems for a few reasons (I suppose, but cannot prove): 1., I am a middle-aged, white-haired white guy. 2., I know how to photograph and when one does something with confidence and competence, most people accept it. I almost never skulked around and at times would make it obvious to any potential viewer of my photographing that I was taking my time, giving the surveillors time to study me as I made my pictures (the precise nature of which they could have no idea). In some circumstances, I would approach a security guard or employee and ask permission. I was chased off the steps of Enron after I made the pictures I wanted to.

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I’ve noticed on our own blog when we write about the erosion of civil liberties, people actually (and often belligerently) write in defending the government or police tactics and call those who are outraged “radicals,” saying things like it’s just keeping us safe from terrorists. What’s your take on that?

I try not to argue with the ignorant. There seems to be more than enough stupidity and/or ignorance on all sides of these issues than I care to indulge in.

Continue reading ‘Talking to…Photographer Richard Gordon’

Found on Flickr: amadnomad

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This is another installment in our continuing series where we talk to photographers whose work we’ve appreciated on Flickr.

This week we feature amadnomad.

discarted: So who is this little girl with her traveling zoo we found on flickr? What’s your relationship to her?

amadnomad: The little girl is my daughter, Zhenya L’vovna Jabban Rukhina. She is 2 years old.

discarted: Wow, that’s quite the name…where did it come from?

amadnomad: In Russia, the middle name is a patronymic — in other words, if you are male your middle name is your father’s first name plus -vich. If you are female you add -ovna. Zhenya (named after my father who was a famous painter in Russia) L’vovna (Lev+ovna, but the “e” is replaced by a character that does not exist in Latin characters) Jabban (her mom’s last name) Rukhina (my last name, but in Russia, women get an “a” at the end. Hence the complicated but *fun* name.

discarted: Looking at the photos, you can see that Zhenya has quite the collection of toy animals. Where did they all come from?

amadnomad: Her mom bought her the toy animals. Zhenya loves arranging them and corralling them about the city.

discarted: Can you describe what it’s like to wrangle up Zhenya and the entire traveling zoo for a day out with the camera?

amadnomad: I always carry my camera (Rolleiflex or EOS 1DS). Whenever I catch Zhenya playing with her animals, I try to capture the beauty and innocence of a child’s fascination.

discarted: What spawned this fabulous idea?

amadnomad: I noticed Zhenya’s imagination as she played with the giraffe over breakfast one day. I took a photo and came to admire her rapture with the animals, her “down time” as she quietly played.

discarted: For some time now I haven’t seen an image that has really stuck with me. But these three really crawled under my skin. I was fascinated and amused yet I was also creeped out by them. How would you describe them? 

amadnomad: The images area documentation of our journey via public transportation from Hollywood to the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City.

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Though this was meant to be a shot of the loneliness one may experience during a layover from one bus to another, when you find yourself in an unknown section of the city, thinking of what is to come or what you have just left behind. The trash can, however, lent the image a much more forlorn feel, inaccurate of what I wanted to portray. I agree, it came out a bit creepy.

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The excitement of waiting for the bus, of the adventure ahead. Fun!

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Aahh, the adventure is under way. Unknown faces, unknown places, brochures and fliers everywhere. Exciting time of experience.

discarted: Are there any Zhenya shoots planned for the future? What are some of the other interesting and funny locations we might see her in?

amadnomad: I am working on a new series for Zhenya all the time. 

To see more of amadnomad’s work checkout Lever and Fulcrum.

Interview by discarted.

Found on Flickr: ockermedia

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This is another installment in our continuing series where we talk to photographers whose work we’ve appreciated on Flickr.

This week we feature Lee Jordan/ockermedia.

cinemafia: The first thing I want to ask you is how you began doing street photography, as it is generally a different story for everyone who does it. Did you have any particular influences that helped you along the way?

ockermedia: My first connect to photography was in college in 1986. I was 16, and just left school to go to college to study media and film. My first year was taken up by a film project called “Life in the Shadows.” I met many a colourful character – one called Teddy Ruxpin and another called Elvis… back then, as you may or may not remember, tramps were real tramps! Quirky characters who drank far too much, lived under bridges and made funny grunts and noises at people as they walked by, good, old massive beards… anyway it was a good short film that paved the way into my sports filming career.

Although my filming progressed into extreme sports, I remained interested in capturing local street life and would often include edits of street people in sports videos. In terms of other artists that have inspired me, Joel Meyerowitz’s 1980s New York street photography was certainly influential; Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant also influenced my style as I was interested in all aspects of street culture, street art, music, sports and lifestyle. It was only at the start of ‘08 [that] I picked up a DSLR and started my photography hobby. Having enjoyed all aspects of the creative control that filming gave me, I found digital photography a very accessible medium.

cinemafia: Why do you think it is important to photograph people who live or otherwise spend most of their time on the streets? Do you think these types of photographs will ever really make any difference in the world?

ockermedia: I think that it is an important record of people whose lives go largely undocumented and unrecorded [as] they slip through the net of any government statistic. Excluded from any family photograph, they have little or no paper trail of bank statements and addresses. A photograph gives them a lasting image, a record of their existence. “I am” is the simple statement they make in the photos. It is the way we view their existence that influences how we look at the photographs.

I think that street photography provides an important insight to all lifestyles in the city, for both current and future generations. We should all spare a thought for these otherwise forgotten souls. However, while I think that photographs of marginal characters in society can be useful in promoting awareness of social and cultural issues and provoke debate, I do not take the photos with this as an agenda; it’s simply a personal record of the characters I meet.

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cinemafia: One of my favorite shots of yours is of Goliath (above). It’s a striking image, and the story behind it is all the more interesting. It speaks a lot to the idea that those of us who shoot people who are frequently on the streets, whether by choice or by chance, often come to know these people very well, even becoming  friends with them. I wonder if you could talk a little about how it feels going out and seeing these people regularly, and how you think they feel about you photographing them.

ockermedia: Goliath is a gentle giant of a man that I met while shooting on the streets of Bristol. [I] sat on a bench having an in depth chat about life, and his role in it, and then I realized that I knew him many years ago. Back in his heyday he was a bouncer on the doors of many an establishment I frequented. Many Bristol locals would remember him from the Thekla, late 80s, early 90s, as the dominating figure on the door. He then went onto explain that he was also head of security at many famous festivals like Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds,etc, etc. But because of the nature of clubs and festivals he ended up an alcoholic, drinking maybe 30 cans of strong larger a day! So much of his time [now] is spent sitting around on streets drinking all day. However he does have a house – and a big house in the most sought after part of Bristol, yet he spends most of his time on the streets.

I know I was fuelling his addiction, but I bought him a couple of beers to say thanks for the photos. This put a beaming smile on his face – RESPECT he said! As I was leaving he called me back. He offered to repay my gift of beer with some old photography books he had. I didn’t want to take his books, but I saw it as a chance to see him more over the lonely Christmas period, if only to make sure he was well and happy. He is the most gentle of giants with an honest heart, and most of all, he is my new friend.

Continue reading ‘Found on Flickr: ockermedia’

Found on Flickr: evg3 photography

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This is another installment in our continuing series where we talk to photographers whose work we’ve appreciated on Flickr.

This week we feature evg3 photography.

cinemafia: Your body of work spans many genres, from journalism to fashion to lifestyle. Yet, there seems to be a common theme or connection between all of your photographs that is difficult for me to describe. Could you tell me how you feel about the different kinds of work that you do, and how they might all come together?

evg3 photography: I think I’m looking for stories; there’s always a story behind a good image, you can feel it in a landscape, in a face, in the composition that suggests something you usually never see. Anyway, most of my work focuses on portraits or places that show you somehow the human existence.

cinemafia: You have many examples of street photography, or perhaps street documentary, in your stream that is taken from daily life in Mexico City. Being one of most highly-populated urban areas in the world, I wonder if you’d talk a little about the unique dynamic of approaching and photographing people there. In Los Angeles, there is a culture of suspicion and contempt for many people who photograph strangers in public, and I wonder what are the similarities or differences there in Mexico City.

evg3 photography: Indeed, most people don’t want just to be photographed, it’s kind of invasive. I believe the key is to get closer in order to make a great image, to tell a story; it’s about being human. Most photographers use the camera to take “snapshots” that only show the surface, not the real person. That happens with places too; a serious photographer needs [to be] going deeper, to share yourself, be a friend. I bring always with me an iPod touch with my portfolio to show my portraits – that works great to give an idea that I’m a serious photographer.

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cinemafia: I wanted to ask you about something you put in your flickr profile, and it has to do with the idea of the photographer and the camera, a kind of “man vs. machine” concept. This is a an important discussion because it is true that many budding photographers get caught up in buying the best camera and gear and lose sight of what it is they’re trying to do. I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about this – give us some details as to why it’s not the equipment but the eyes and brain behind it.

evg3 photography: Cameras are only tools; when you need special equipment [it] is because you have something in mind. I think most of those “photographers” don’t have a clear idea of what they want. It’s the same with software.

Continue reading ‘Found on Flickr: evg3 photography’



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