Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus achieved some recognition and renown with the publication, beginning in 1960, of photographs in such magazines as Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, London’s Sunday Times Magazine, and Artforum.

Diane Arbus (March 14, 1923 – July 26, 1971) was an American photographer. Arbus worked to normalize marginalized groups and highlight the importance of proper representation of all people. She worked with a wide range of subjects including; strippers, carnival performers, nudists, dwarves, children, mothers, couples, older adults, and middle-class families. She photographed her subjects in familiar settings: their homes, on the street, in the workplace, in the park. “She is noted for expanding notions of acceptable subject matter and violates canons of the appropriate distance between photographer and subject. By befriending, not objectifying her subjects, she was able to capture in her work a rare psychological intensity.” In his 2003 New York Times Magazine article, “Arbus Reconsidered,” Arthur Lubow states, “She was fascinated by people who were visibly creating their own identities—cross-dressers, nudists, sideshow performers, tattooed men, the nouveaux riches, the movie-star fans—and by those who were trapped in a uniform that no longer provided any security or comfort.” Michael Kimmelman writes in his review of the exhibition Diane Arbus Revelations, that her work “transformed the art of photography (Arbus is everywhere, for better and worse, in the work of artists today who make photographs)”.

© Diane Arbus Estate – Self-portrait pregnancy

In her lifetime she achieved some recognition and renown with the publication, beginning in 1960, of photographs in such magazines as Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, London’s Sunday Times Magazine, and Artforum. In 1963 the Guggenheim Foundation awarded Arbus a fellowship for her proposal entitled, “American Rites, Manners and Customs”. She was awarded a renewal of her fellowship in 1966. John Szarkowski, the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City from 1962 to 1991, championed her work and included it in his 1967 exhibit New Documents along with the work of Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. Her photographs were also included in a number of other major group shows.

Photographed through anti-UV perspex- colour charts only a guide. – © Diane Arbus Estate

In 1972, a year after her suicide, Arbus became the first photographer to be included in the Venice Biennale where her photographs were “the overwhelming sensation of the American Pavilion” and “extremely powerful and very strange.”

The first major retrospective of Arbus’ work was held in 1972 at MoMA, organized by Szarkowski. The retrospective garnered the highest attendance of any exhibition in MoMA’s history to date. Millions viewed travelling exhibitions of her work from 1972 to 1979. The book accompanying the exhibition, Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph, edited by Doon Arbus and Marvin Israel and first published in 1972 has never been out of print.

Diane Arbus, Tattooed Man at a Carnival, Md. 1970, printed after 1971
© Diane Arbus Estate

Personal life
Arbus was born Diane Nemerov to David Nemerov and Gertrude Russek Nemerov, a Jewish couple – immigrants from Soviet Russia – who lived in New York City and owned Russeks, a Fifth Avenue department store. Because of her family’s wealth, Arbus was insulated from the effects of the Great Depression while growing up in the 1930s. Her father became a painter after retiring from Russeks. Her younger sister became a sculptor and designer, and her older brother, the poet Howard Nemerov, taught English at Washington University in St. Louis and was appointed United States Poet Laureate. Howard’s son is the Americanist art historian Alexander Nemerov.

Arbus’s parents were not deeply involved in raising their children, who were overseen by maids and governesses. Her mother had a busy social life and underwent a period of clinical depression for approximately a year, then recovered, and her father was busy with work. She separated herself from her family and her lavish childhood.

Arbus attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a prep school. In 1941, at the age of 18, she married her childhood sweetheart, Allan Arbus, whom she had dated since age 14. Their daughter Doon, who would become a writer, was born in 1945; their daughter Amy, who would become a photographer, was born in 1954. Arbus and her husband worked together in commercial photography from 1946 to 1956, but Allan remained very supportive of her work even after leaving the business and began an independent relationship to photography.

Arbus and her husband separated in 1959, although they maintained a close friendship. The couple also continued to share a darkroom, where Allan’s studio assistants processed her negatives, and she printed her work. The couple divorced in 1969 when he moved to California to pursue acting. He was popularly known for his role as Dr. Sidney Freedman on the television show MAS*H. Before his move to California, Allan set up her darkroom, and they thereafter maintained a long correspondence.

In late 1959, Arbus began a relationship with the art director and painter Marvin Israel that would last until her death. All the while, he remained married to Margaret Ponce Israel, an accomplished mixed-media artist. Marvin Israel both spurred Arbus creatively and championed her work, encouraging her to create her first portfolio. Among other photographers and artists she befriended, Arbus was close to photographer Richard Avedon; he was approximately the same age, his family had also run a Fifth Avenue department store, and many of his photographs were also characterized by detailed frontal poses.

© Diane Arbus Estate

Photographic career
Arbus received her first camera, a Graflex, from Allan shortly after they married. Shortly thereafter, she enrolled in classes with photographer Berenice Abbott. The Arbuses’ interests in photography led them, in 1941, to visit the gallery of Alfred Stieglitz, and learn about the photographers Mathew Brady, Timothy O’Sullivan, Paul Strand, Bill Brandt, and Eugène Atget. In the early 1940s, Diane’s father employed them to take photographs of the department store’s advertisements. Allan was a photographer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps in World War II.

In 1946, after the war, the Arbuses began a commercial photography business called “Diane & Allan Arbus”, with Diane as art director and Allan as the photographer. She would come up with the concepts for their shoots and then take care of the models. She grew dissatisfied with this role, a role even her husband thought was “demeaning”. They contributed to Glamour, Seventeen, Vogue, and other magazines even though “they both hated the fashion world.” Despite over 200 pages of their fashion editorial in Glamour, and over 80 pages in Vogue, the Arbuses’ fashion photography has been described as of “middling quality.” Edward Steichen’s noted 1955 photography exhibition, The Family of Man, did include a photograph by the Arbuses of a father and son reading a newspaper.

© Diane Arbus Estate – Self-Portrait

She studied briefly with Alexey Brodovich in 1954. However, it was her studies with Lisette Model, which began in 1956, that encouraged Arbus to focus exclusively on her own work. That year Arbus quit the commercial photography business and began numbering her negatives. (Her last known negative was labelled #7459.) Based on Model’s advice, Arbus avoided loading film in the camera as an exercise in truly seeing. Arbus also credits Model with making it clear to her that “the more specific you are, the more general it’ll be.”

By 1956 she worked with a 35mm Nikon, wandering the streets of New York City and meeting her subjects largely, though not always, by chance. The idea of personal identity as socially constructed is one that Arbus came back to, whether it be performers, women and men wearing makeup, or a literal mask obstructing one’s face. Critics have speculated that the choices in her subjects reflected her own identity issues, for she said that the only thing she suffered from as a child was never having felt adversity. This evolved into a longing for things that money couldn’t buy, such as experiences in the underground social world. She is often praised for her sympathy for these subjects, a quality which is not immediately understood through the images themselves, but through her writing and the testimonies of the men and women she portrayed. A few years later, in 1958 she began making lists of who and what she was interested in photographing. She began photographing on assignment for magazines such as Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, and The Sunday Times Magazine in 1959.

Around 1962, Arbus switched from a 35mm Nikon camera which produced the grainy rectangular images characteristic of her post-studio work to a twin-lens reflex Rolleiflex camera which produced more detailed square images. She explained this transition by saying “In the beginning of photographing I used to make very grainy things. I’d be fascinated by what the grain did because it would make a kind of tapestry of all these little dots…But when I’d been working for a while with all these dots, I suddenly wanted terribly to get through there. I wanted to see the real differences between things… I began to get terribly hyped on clarity.” In 1964, Arbus began using a 2-1/4 Mamiyaflex camera with flash in addition to the Rolleiflex.

Arbus’s style is said to be “direct and unadorned, a frontal portrait centred in a square format. Her pioneering use of flash in daylight isolated the subjects from the background, contributing to the photos’ surreal quality.” Her methods included establishing a strong personal relationship with her subjects and re-photographing some of them over many years.

In spite of being widely published and achieving some artistic recognition, Arbus struggled to support herself through her work. “During her lifetime, there was no market for collecting photographs as works of art, and her prints usually sold for $100 or less.” It is evident from her correspondence that lack of money was a persistent concern.

In 1963, Arbus was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for a project on “American rites, manners, and customs”; the fellowship was renewed in 1966.

Throughout the 1960s, Arbus supported herself largely by taking magazine assignments and commissions. For example, in 1968 she shot documentary photographs of poor sharecroppers in rural South Carolina (for Esquire magazine). In 1969 a rich and prominent actor and theatre owner, Konrad Matthaei, and his wife, Gay, commissioned Arbus to photograph a family Christmas gathering. During her career, Arbus photographed Mae West, Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Nelson, Bennet Cerf, atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Norman Mailer, Jayne Mansfield, Eugene McCarthy, billionaire H. L. Hunt, Gloria Vanderbilt’s baby, Anderson Cooper, Coretta Scott King, and Marguerite Oswald (Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother). In general, her magazine assignments decreased as her fame as an artist increased. Szarkowski hired Arbus in 1970 to research an exhibition on photojournalism called “From the Picture Press”; it included many photographs by Weegee whose work Arbus admired. She also taught photography at the Parsons School of Design and the Cooper Union in New York City, and the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island.

© Diane Arbus Estate

Late in her career, The Metropolitan Museum of Art indicated to her that they would buy three of her photographs for $75 each, but citing a lack of funds, purchased only two. As she wrote to Allan Arbus, “So I guess being poor is no disgrace.”

Beginning in 1969 Arbus undertook a series of photographs of people at New Jersey residences for the developmentally and intellectually disabled, posthumously named Untitled. Arbus returned to several facilities repeatedly for Halloween parties, picnics, and dances. In a letter to Allan Arbus dated November 28, 1969, she described these photographs as “lyric and tender and pretty.”

Artforum published six photographs, including a cover image, from Arbus’s portfolio, A box of ten photographs, in May 1971. After his encounter with Arbus and the portfolio, Philip Leider, then editor in chief of Artforum and a photography sceptic, admitted, “With Diane Arbus, one could find oneself interested in photography or not, but one could no longer . . . deny its status as art.” She was the first photographer to be featured in Artforum and “Leider’s admission of Arbus into this critical bastion of late modernism was instrumental in shifting the perception of photography and ushering its acceptance into the realm of ‘serious’ art.”

The first major exhibition of her photographs occurred at the Museum of Modern Art in the influential New Documents (1967) alongside the work of Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, curated by John Szarkowski. New Documents, which drew almost 250,000 visitors demonstrated Arbus’s interest in what Szarkowski referred to as society’s “frailties” and presented what he described as “a new generation of documentary photographers…whose aim has been not to reform life but to know it, “described elsewhere as “photography that emphasized the pathos and conflicts of modern life presented without editorializing or sentimentalizing but with a critical, observant eye.” The show was polarizing, receiving both praise and criticism, with some identifying Arbus as a disinterested voyeur and others praising her for her evident empathy with her subjects.

In 2018, The New York Times published a belated obituary of Arbus as part of the Overlooked history project. The Smithsonian American Art Museum housed an exclusive exhibit from April 6, 2018, to January 27, 2019, that featured one of Arbus’ portfolios, A box of ten photographs. The SAAM is the only museum currently displaying the work. The collection is “one of just four complete editions that Arbus printed and annotated. The three other editions—the artist never executed her plan to make 50—are held privately”. The Smithsonian edition was made for Bea Feitler, an art director who both employed and befriended Arbus. After Feitler’s death, Baltimore collector G.H. Dalsheimer bought her portfolio from Sotheby’s in 1982 for $42,900. The SAAM then bought it from Dalsheimer in 1986. The portfolio was put away in the museum’s collection, until 2018.

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Robert Adams

Robert Adams first came to prominence in the mid-1970s through his book The New West and his participation in the exhibition New Topographics.

Robert Adams (born May 8, 1937) is an American photographer who has focused on the changing landscape of the American West. His work first came to prominence in the mid-1970s through his book The New West (1974) and his participation in the exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape in 1975. He has received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a MacArthur Fellowship, the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize and the Hasselblad Award.

Robert Adams – ©IPHF

Robert Hickman Adams was born on May 8, 1937 in Orange, New Jersey to Lois Hickman Adams and Ross Adams. In 1940 the family moved to Madison, New Jersey where his younger sister Carolyn was born. Then in 1947 they moved to Madison, Wisconsin for five years, where he contracted polio at age 12 in 1949 in his back, left arm, and hand but was able to recover. They moved one last time, in 1952, to Wheat Ridge, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, when his father secured a job in Denver. They moved to Colorado partly because of the chronic bronchial problems that he suffered from in Madison, New Jersey around age 5 as an attempt to help alleviate those problems. He continued to suffer from asthma and allergy problems.

During his childhood, Adams often accompanied his father on walks and hikes through the woods on Sunday afternoons. He also enjoyed playing baseball in open fields and working with his father on carpentry projects. He was an active Boy Scout, and was also active with the Methodist church that his family attended. He and his father made several raft trips through Dinosaur National Monument, and during his adolescent years he worked at boys’ camps at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. He also took trips on pack horses and went mountain climbing. He and his sister began visiting Denver Art Museum. Adams also learned to like reading. In 1955, he hunted for the last time.

North Denver, Colorado, 1973 © Robert Adams

Adams enrolled in the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1955, and attended it for his first year, but decided to transfer the next year to the University of Redlands in California where he received his B.A. in English in 1959. He continued his graduate studies at the University of Southern California and received his PhD in English in 1965.

In 1960 while at Redlands, he met and married Kerstin Mornestam, a Swedish native, who shared the same interest in the arts and nature. Robert and Kerstin spent their first few summers together in Oregon along the coast, where they took long walks on the beach and spent their evenings reading.

A drive-in movie theater, North Denver, Colorado, 1969 © Robert Adams

Work
In 1963 they moved back to Colorado, and Adams began teaching English at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. In 1963, Adams bought a 35 mm camera and began to take pictures mostly of nature and architecture. He soon read complete sets of Camera Work and Aperture at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. He learned photographic technique from Myron Wood, a professional photographer who lived in Colorado. While finishing his dissertation, he began to photograph in 1964. In 1966, he began to teach only part-time to have more time to photograph. He met John Szarkowski, the curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, on a trip to New York City in 1969. The museum later bought four of his prints. In 1970, he began working as a full-time photographer.

Critic Sean O’Hagan, writing in The Guardian, said “his subject has been the American west: its vastness, its sparse beauty and its ecological fragility. What he has photographed constantly – in varying shades of grey – is what has been lost and what remains” and that “his work’s other great subtext” is silence.

Weld County, Colorado, 1984 © Robert Adams

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Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio who became an assistant to Man Ray, who wanted someone with no previous knowledge of photography.

Berenice Abbott (July 17, 1898 – December 9, 1991), née Bernice Alice Abbott, was an American photographer best known for her portraits of between-the-wars 20th century cultural figures, New York City photographs of architecture and urban design of the 1930s, and science interpretation in the 1940s to 1960s.

Berenice Abbott - Street Photography - 1938 - The Old Print Shop. Hester Street.
The Old Print Shop, Hester Street, 1938. (All Copyrights respected)

Early years
Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio and brought up there by her divorced mother, née Lillian Alice Bunn (m. Charles E. Abbott in Chillicothe OH, 1886).

She attended Ohio State University for two semesters, but left in early 1918 when her professor was dismissed because he was a German teaching an English class. In Paris, she became an assistant to Man Ray, who wanted someone with no previous knowledge of photography.

Photography career

Trip to Europe, photography, and poetry
Her university studies included theater and sculpture. She spent two years studying sculpture in Paris and Berlin. She studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris and the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. During this time, she adopted the French spelling of her first name, “Berenice,” at the suggestion of Djuna Barnes. In addition to her work in the visual arts, Abbott published poetry in the experimental literary journal transition. Abbott first became involved with photography in 1923, when Man Ray hired her as a darkroom assistant at his portrait studio in Montparnasse. Later, she wrote: “I took to photography like a duck to water. I never wanted to do anything else.” Ray was impressed by her darkroom work and allowed her to use his studio to take her own photographs. In 1921 her first major works was in an exhibition in the Parisian gallery Le Sacre du Printemps. After a short time studying photography in Berlin, she returned to Paris in 1927 and started a second studio, on the rue Servandoni.

Photograph by Abbott of her friend Margarett Sargent taken in Paris in 1928
Abbott’s subjects were people in the artistic and literary worlds, including French nationals (Jean Cocteau), expatriates (James Joyce), and others just passing through the city. According to Sylvia Beach, “To be ‘done’ by Man Ray or Berenice Abbott meant you rated as somebody”. Abbott’s work was exhibited with that of Man Ray, André Kertész, and others in Paris, in the “Salon de l’Escalier” (more formally, the Premier Salon Indépendant de la Photographie), and on the staircase of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Her portraiture was unusual within exhibitions of modernist photography held in 1928–1929 in Brussels and Germany.

Abbott’s photograph of Janet Flanner in 1925
In 1925, Man Ray introduced her to Eugène Atget’s photographs. She became interested in Atget’s work, and managed to persuade him to sit for a portrait in 1927. He died shortly thereafter. She acquired the prints and negatives remaining in Eugène Atget’s studio at his death in 1927. While the government acquired much of Atget’s archive — Atget had sold 2,621 negatives in 1920, and his friend and executor André Calmettes sold 2,000 more immediately after his death — Abbott was able to buy the remainder in June, 1928, and quickly started work on its promotion. An early tangible result was the 1930 book Atget, photographe de Paris, in which she is described as photo editor. Due to a lack of funding, Abbott sold a one-half interest in the collection to Julien Levy for $1,000. Abbott’s work on Atget’s behalf would continue until her sale of the archive to the Museum of Modern Art in 1968. In addition to her book The World of Atget (1964), she provided the photographs for A Vision of Paris (1963), published a portfolio, Twenty Photographs, and wrote essays. Her sustained efforts helped Atget gain international recognition

Changing New York

Bowery restaurant photograph for Changing New York, 1935.
In early 1929, Abbott visited New York City, ostensibly to find an American publisher for Atget’s photographs. After New York when she was doing portrait photography most of the time, she moved on to documentary photography. Upon seeing the city again, Abbott recognized its photographic potential. She went back to Paris, closed up her studio, and returned to New York in September. She was a central figure that created bridge with photographic hubs in New York City. Her first photographs of the city were taken with a handheld Kurt-Bentzin camera, but soon she acquired a Century Universal camera which produced 8 × 10 inch negatives. Using this large format camera, Abbott photographed New York City with the diligence and attention to detail she had so admired in Eugène Atget. Atget died in 1927 and she bought all his work which contained over 5000 negatives and glass slides from him and brought it to New York in 1929. Her work has provided a historical chronicle of many now-destroyed buildings and neighborhoods of Manhattan. Her work appeared in an exhibition “Changing New York” at the Museum Of City in 1937. This was a book made to show the transformation of New York City. She focused more on the physical part of the transformation rather than the mental part of it, such as the change of neighborhoods and the replacement of skyscrapers to low rise buildings.

Abbott worked on her New York project independently for six years, unable to get financial support from organizations (such as the Museum of the City of New York), foundations (such as the Guggenheim Foundation), or individuals. She supported herself with commercial work and teaching at the New School of Social Research beginning in 1933.

Manhattan skyline in 1936
In 1935, Abbott was hired by the Federal Art Project (FAP) as a project supervisor for her “Changing New York” project. She continued to take the photographs of the city, but she had assistants to help her both in the field and in the office. This arrangement allowed Abbott to devote all her time to producing, printing, and exhibiting her photographs. By the time she resigned from the FAP in 1939, she had produced 305 photographs that were then deposited at the Museum of the City of New York. Abbott’s project was primarily a sociological study embedded within modernist aesthetic practices. She sought to create a broadly inclusive collection of photographs that together suggest a vital interaction between three aspects of urban life: the diverse people of the city; the places they live, work and play; and their daily activities. It was intended to empower people by making them realize that their environment was a consequence of their collective behavior (and vice versa). Moreover, she avoided the merely pretty in favor of what she described as “fantastic” contrasts between the old and the new, and chose her camera angles and lenses to create compositions that either stabilized a subject (if she approved of it), or destabilized it (if she scorned it).

Berenice Abbott - Street Photography - 1932 - Bowery Bum.
Bowery Bum, New York, 1932. (All Copyrights respected)

Encampment of the unemployed, New York City, 1935
Abbott’s ideas about New York were highly influenced by Lewis Mumford’s historical writings from the early 1930s, which divided American history into a series of technological eras. Abbott, like Mumford, was particularly critical of America’s “paleotechnic era”, which, as he described it, emerged at end of the American Civil War, a development called by other historians the Second Industrial Revolution. Like Mumford, Abbott was hopeful that, through urban planning efforts (aided by her photographs), Americans would be able to wrest control of their cities from paleotechnic forces, and bring about what Mumford described as a more humane and human-scaled, “neotechnic era”. Abbott’s agreement with Mumford can be seen especially in the ways that she photographed buildings that had been constructed in the paleotechnic era—before the advent of urban planning. Most often, buildings from this era appear in Abbott’s photographs in compositions that made them look downright menacing.

In 1935, Abbott moved into a Greenwich Village loft with the art critic Elizabeth McCausland, with whom she lived until McCausland’s death in 1965. McCausland was an ardent supporter of Abbott, writing several articles for the Springfield Daily Republican, as well as for Trend and New Masses (the latter under the pseudonym Elizabeth Noble). In addition, McCausland contributed the captions for the book of Abbott’s photographs entitled Changing New York which was published in 1939. In 1949, her photography book Greenwich Village Today and Yesterday was published by Harper & Brothers.

Ralph Steiner wrote in that Abbott’s work was “the greatest collection of photographs of New York City ever made.”

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Slim Aarons

Slim Aarons was an American photographer, who worked at West Point, and later served as a combat photographer in World War II and earned a Purple Heart.

Slim Aarons (born George Allen Aarons; October 29, 1916 – May 30, 2006) was an American photographer noted for photographing socialites, jet-setters and celebrities.

Slim Aarons, The High Life, 1968.  Photographer
Slim Aarons, The High Life, 1968. (All Copyrights respected)

Photography career

At 18 years old, Aarons enlisted in the U.S. Army, worked as a photographer at West Point, and later served as a combat photographer in World War II and earned a Purple Heart. Aarons said combat had taught him the only beach worth landing on was “decorated with beautiful, seminude girls tanning in a tranquil sun.”

After the war, Aarons moved to California and began photographing celebrities. In California, he shot his most praised photo, Kings of Hollywood, a 1957 New’s Year’s Eve photograph depicting Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper, and James Stewart relaxing at a bar in full formal wear. Aaron’s work appeared in Life, Town & Country, and Holiday magazines.

Aarons never used a stylist, or a makeup artist. He made his career out of what he called “photographing attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.” An oft-cited example of this approach is his 1970 Poolside Gossip shot at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House, with owner Nelda Linsk as one of the models in the photo. “I knew everyone,” he said in an interview with The (London) Independent in 2002. “They would invite me to one of their parties because they knew I wouldn’t hurt them. I was one of them.” Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Rear Window (1954), whose main character is a photographer played by Jimmy Stewart, is set in an apartment reputed to be based on Aarons’ apartment

In 1997, Mark Getty, the co-founder of Getty Images, visited Aarons in his home and bought Aarons’ entire archive.

In 2017, filmmaker Fritz Mitchell released a documentary about Aarons, called Slim Aarons: The High Life.

Death

Aarons died in 2006 in Montrose, New York, and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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