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From Happy New Year to Chuc Mung Nam Moi

O&M_Happy_New_Year_2015_WEB

New Year’s Eve passed and Tet is coming. The second New Year celebration in 2015. 2014 saw a lot of changes. Vietnam is in constant change, that’s for sure. 2014 was moving time. The studio is still up and running in District 2, however, I am enjoying a new home in District 3 with an amazing view as you can see here:


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Family, Photography

A visit to the park

Sunday morning. The mere words install expectations. A day off. All your worries evaporating as water droplets soaked up by the rising sun. Sundays are to be enjoyed. To recoup. To get out, and out we did go, to the park that is.

The park is already packed before even setting a foot inside. The motorbike attendant closed the entrance two bikes behind us. “It’s full. You have to park elsewhere.” Bikes are being turned around, except for one. He’s not having it. Walking longer to the park is not acceptable. His pleas bear fruit once the others have left, he gets the last spot.

Impromptu chairs and tables emerge on the foot path as people want their morning coffees. Business is brisk. The violinists are practicing down to the left by the pond. The pond has all the photographers circling along, with all their gear out, using their longest tele lens to isolate the lotus flowers. Elsewhere, you see all the boyscout uniforms and the waiting parents. Across the road you find the fitness buffs, doing pull ups bare chested. Male only, so traffic passes by smoothly. Nothing to see.

It’s time to take out the camera. Only one lens, a macro, and I delve into yet another world.

In_the_Park_Copyright_MadsMonsen

Prints are now available for sale, either as our handmade lacquer prints or canvas prints. Inquiries can be made at our other site, OanhMadsVn.com

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Family, Photography

The family visit

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Photography is rewarding. You get to meet great people, sometimes even travel to exotic locations or take part of an important stage of someone else’s life.It was such as day for Kate and Collin as they wanted images of their first born daughter, Marie.

It also comes with great responsibility. You are in charge of creating visual mementos for the future. Preserving a slice of time for others to enjoy.

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Photographing Marie at their home made the session easier. She could feel more comfortable in her own environment and we could make use of all her toys as decoration objects. Later on, we moved to the studio after a refreshing nap for more traditional family portraits as seen below.

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Photography

The art of walking in high heels and the images to prove it

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It all started with an email. That’s why I was standing outside Hotel Continental, opposite the Opera House and waiting. A few minutes earlier I had parked my bike at the Park Hyatt. I was early. Unlike Vietnamese weddings, where it’s normal to arrive at least one hour after the official starting time, assignments tend to start on time. On time we started.

Kate had given a clear and simple brief, great shots around town. Simple. On foot we set off. I had my comfortable, flat Helly Hansen shoes and Kate marched on wearing high heels. For those who know the pavements in Ho Chi Minh City, you can all agree that the pavements are not meant to be used for walking.

It is cumbersome enough to walk in comfortable shoes and high heels are rated mission impossible once you add a bit of distance. Kate was impressive. We did a fair amount of walking and she did so in great style as you can see from the images below.

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Photography

Third time lucky – or are we?

If you have good health and food on your table every day, then indeed, count yourself lucky. However, some of the patients at the Children’s Hospital 2, Nguyen Du street, are overdue to receive a bit of luck in their lives. It is Friday afternoon, ten to four, and we have arrived. Early and soaked as we braved the rain in order to be on time for the scheduled 4 pm meet up. It’s my third weekly visit in a row and we realise we are the first to arrive. The members of the group are wiser, they wait for the rain to clear and then they set out for their weekly mission. The end goal is important, getting wet is not. Off we go. The route is familiar, the wards too, only the people have changed. All new faces, or so it seems. They still know that we are here and people are approaching to secure a meal ticket. The group is bringing hope and the ones who receive their help are the lucky ones. Sadly, we all wish more people to be lucky too, but to achieve that, more help and donors are needed. (All images by iPhone.) smm_charity_third_visit_01 smm_charity_third_visit_02 smm_charity_third_visit_03 smm_charity_third_visit_04 smm_charity_third_visit_05 smm_charity_third_visit_06 smm_charity_third_visit_07

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Design, Photography, Recommended

Souvenirs in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and what to buy as a memento

SGN by SMM – Matrix Colour, coaster set in lacquer.

SGN by SMM – Matrix Colour, coaster set in lacquer.

Traveling to the Far East. The sentence has a magical sound to it. The magic spell can either come apart or be carried on. It all comes down to choices we make. Observing. Reflecting. Participating. When I travel I like to take breaks by the roadside and sit and watch the world go by. The size of that world is in a direct relationship to the size of the town I am visiting. Needless to say, a small road stall in the middle of an unpaved country lane brings a few people passing by within an hour or two. More people pass by your eyes in less than 30 seconds in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

On my travels around Vietnam I made an observation regarding the markets, in particular the souvenirs stalls. They were all selling more or less the same products. It presented a challenge as I have a traveling habit. I like to purchase something that I believe to be unique to the place I am visiting, or something that represents that place. I collect mementos. I also capture what I see with my camera. I behave as an average tourist.

Then I had an idea. That was one and a half year ago. I set out to produce my own souvenirs, my own mementos, to share with fellow travellers that wish for something different. Last month that idea became a real product available to purchase at selected stores in Ho Chi Minh City. The product is photographic lacquerware. Vietnam is famous for its lacquerware and I combine the traditional Vietnamese craftsmanship of lacquer making with photography. A modern souvenir gift wrapped in the old traditions of lacquerware. Handmade in Vietnam.

I truly recommend you to take a look at it at a nearby store. The product images do not do them justice as the colours are richer than they appear on the images. Each item has a base layer of silver foil and we print the image on top of the silver base. Then the lacquer coatings are applied by hand. The whole process takes up to six weeks from start to finished product.

Currently, we have a dining set range and a small coaster set range available for purchase. Images of the products are available online at our webstore or you can see the products on display at our selected retail partners in Ho Chi Minh City. For international shipping we can handle that through the webstore. For direct purchases, please visit one of the retailers or inquire with us directly if the store is out of stock.

Our products are stocked by Ginkgo Concept Store, 254 De Tham Street, District 1, HCMC and Studio Co, 4 Le Van Mien, Thao Dien, District 2, HCMC. For a full list of authorized retailers, please visit our lacquerware website as it took less than a month after we launched for copycat products to surface in the local market.

Promo_small_set

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Photography

Observing kindness and documenting with an iPhone

It’s Friday 4pm in Ho Chi Minh City. We are at the gates of the hospital again. This time we arrive early and it’s still daylight and the group has just assembled outside the cafeteria that is located inside the compound. Red plastic chairs are shuffled around and hands are shaken. More people are present and we get introduced to them all. Off we go. Extra diapers are handed out to parents in need along with the weekly food tickets. Donations are also given to parents with children that has undergone surgery. The walk through the emergency area is emotional, especially if you are a parent yourself. You really don’t want to be walking in their shoes.

Despite the circumstances, smiles are still seen. It was really remarkable to see the young boy, sitting on his mothers lap, connected to a machine with a plastic tube coming out from his throat and he was still able to smile after we arrived.

The images below sums the experience up better than words. If you would like to help or get in touch with the group, please come along on a Friday afternoon at 4pm or visit their website (in Vietnamese) here http://traitimnhanai.com.vn/home.php

Iphonography. SMM_Charity_visit_02 SMM_Charity_visit_03 SMM_Charity_visit_04 SMM_Charity_visit_05 SMM_Charity_visit_06 SMM_Charity_visit_07 SMM_Charity_visit_08 SMM_Charity_visit_09 SMM_Charity_visit_10 SMM_Charity_visit_11 SMM_Charity_visit_12

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What a difference a slip of paper can make – A visit at the hospital ward, Nguyen Du Street, District 1

Receivers of food coupons

Receivers of food coupons. Iphonography.

A chain of events. A one year anniversary notification found its way to my inbox. An Expat blog meet-up, always at a new location, and almost always having new people participating. Thus, I met Dennis and his wife, Quynh, for the first time. A random encounter with a touching outcome. They do charity. Several stories later and we are at the hospital ward. They support a local group that helps the poorest amongst the patients.

Every week they print around 300 food tickets, all valid for one week only, to the meals at the canteen. The receivers are guaranteed to have adequate food for a week. It makes a difference when what you have is nothing as you spent everything you had on medicine. The smiles of joy and relief are seen as the group goes through the wards handing out their tickets as well as following up from last week. The group relies on donations to pay for the meals they sponsor every week.

They also run a website (in Vietnamese) that shows what they are doing and how they have spent the money donated.

Here are a few iPhone images from the Friday handout. It takes place every Friday afternoon at the hospital at Nguyen Du street, District 1.

Receivers of food coupons. Iphonography.

Receivers of food coupons. Iphonography.

Receivers of food coupons. Iphonography.

Receivers of food coupons. Iphonography.

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Photography, Review

Fashion Creation – From idea to final show

The street lights glowed in the dark as the light drizzle added a soft shine to the road leading up to Gala Royal. It was early evening, June 20th 2013, and the TK09 students from Hoa Sen’s first bachelor program of Fashion Design  were about to start their graduation show “Fashion Creation”.

Inside, guests were filling up the seats, photographers assembling their gears and video tripods marked the press pit area. Models walked past, en route to back stage changing area while designers could be spotted across the room due to their serious faces. Tension was in the air. The rest of the crowd was at ease, smiling, reading the program and conducting small talk.

It was as any other fashion show, except to the designers involved, this did not feel like any other show, this was their show and it showed. From the serious faces before start, then the anxious looks when their models braved the catwalk, to the joy and sheer happiness when they walked the catwalk themselves, receiving applause for their efforts. Online, likes were being racked up on the various walls as proud parents and friends had already broadcasted the event to their Facebook streams.

A milestone, one of many more to come, had been achieved this evening and for that I would say it was a successful event. They had shipped their products and delivered. They had gone through with their ideas and visualised them. It takes a lot of hand work and dedication to bring ideas to life, however, no matter the hardship, the smiles of joy that evening made it all worth it. It felt great to witness it from front row.

Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation

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Photography

Meeting Mr Carlos – The portrait session

Mr Carlos

Mr Carlos

Carlos is an inspiration. That had to be said. I am fortunate to be able to come across many people through my work and I have now crossed paths with Carlos. Carlos sent me an email. He needed a photographer. A few exchanges later we have agreed on what we wanted to do and he showed up at the studio. As the session progressed and our conversation continued, a remarkable story came out.

Carlos had made up his mind, set goals and started educating himself on fitness and nutrition. 115kg to less than 75kg. 4 years of dedication. An investment that now he could reap the benefits from. Feeling healthy and looking good. He wanted to document his change, and that we did. Here are a few samples from the session we did. Enjoy!

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Photography

“Be my Valentine” – 14th February 2013

"Be my Valentine"

“Be my Valentine”

 Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you who will be out celebrating today!

For those who wants to brush up on their history knowledge, here’s the Wikipedia definition.

"Be my Valentine"

“Be my Valentine”

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Photography

The Year of the Snake & The Flower market

The Year of the Snake it is indeed.

The Year of the Snake it is indeed.

It is the time of year Nguyen Hue street in downtown Ho Chi Minh City closes down and transforms into a flower decoration display. Time your arrival or get caught in the Tet pack. This year the guards allowed you to only walk in one direction to ensure a constant flow and not the typical everybody jostling for themselves as you observe rush hour time at various intersections and roundabouts.

For the pedestrians walking, the pace was quicker than the nearby traffic on Ton Duc Thang street as the before mentioned display of traffic violations increased with the amount of traffic. Going against the one way street in packs, the motorbikes managed to almost grind the traffic to a complete stop. Taking the correct route would be a bit longer in distance, however, the time would be the same, if not faster.

Strolling along in the city and enjoying the outdoor cafe spaces was a pure bliss. Cafe Kita expanded and had a brisk business as well as the impromptu refreshment sellers. The city felt different just by being able to walk without worrying of motorbikes whizzing by trying to snatch your camera or hand bag. More walkable streets would be welcomed indeed. Let’s see what the year can bring – Happy Lunar New Year! Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

The flowers.

The flowers.

The flower girls.

The flower girls.

The flower basket.

The flower basket.

The flower boat.

The flower boat.

 

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Design, Photography

The Circle of Life, Art Direction revisited

Word Magazine, HCMC edition, February 2013 issue, cover photography and design by Mads Monsen

Word Magazine, HCMC edition, February 2013 issue, cover photography and design by Mads Monsen

Word Magazine, Hanoi edition, art direction by Mads Monsen

Word Magazine, Hanoi edition, art direction by Mads Monsen

Just off the presses, Word magazine’s HCMC and Hanoi edition for February 2013 are now available. It took the team a lot of work to make it happen, but we did. Regular readers may notice the design changes that we rolled out for the February editions. Yes, I am involved in magazine design again. For those who know my work as a photographer, it may come as a surprise that I also do editorial design. The ones who knew me from my period as art director at Sun Flower Media (SFM) were equally surprised that I also do photography. To me, design and photography is my Yin and Yang.

After I left SFM in 2008 and set up Studio MadsMonsen (SMM), I was involved with the editorial design of Duyên Dáng Việt Nam – Charming Vietnam Magazine in 2011. Editorial design samples can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuvamads/sets/72157632549798800/

Now, in 2013, I am involved with the editorial design of Word Magazine, both HCMC and Hanoi edition. Editorial design samples can be viewed here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuvamads/sets/72157632549911976/
Also added below a few selected samples for the first blog post of the year, and with that, I do hope to be blogging at my weekly rhythm once again. Happy New Year! Chuc Mung Nam Moi! Godt Nyttår!

Editorial spread. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

Editorial spread. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

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Fashion spread 1 of 3. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

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Fashion spread 2 of 3. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

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Fashion spread 3 of 3. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

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Design, Photography

The ice cream store and why a combo is better than a single strike

Advertising for Nia Bella ice cream store. Photography & design by Studio MadsMonsen.

A combo is better than a single strike. I realised that when playing karate kid arcade games. The combo move was always better than the single kick or punch. Advertising agencies often have an art director/copy writer team. A killer combo of visuals and words. They realise that the team can be more creative than an individual.

Starting out as an apprentice, I realised the perception amongst my peers was to get a “proper” photography degree if you wanted to succeed as a commercial photographer. An apprenticeship was ranked lower. When I started on a photography degree course, I realised that I would spend my time and money on something I already knew very well. I still remember my evaluation meeting with the head of photography department where I raised my concerns and realised that the only thing they had taught me was a split toning technique for black and white printing. I realised that I was in the wrong place.

I asked my graphic design tutor, as we had a weekly two hour graphic design class as part of the course, which school she would recommend for me to apply to, as graphic design was something new and it had caught my interest. I received a list of names, some I heard of, some I hadn’t. Then I asked about a school that I had a friend of mine attending. She looked at me and then told me flatly to forget about that one, I would never get accepted there, it was out of my league.

I could have listened to her, but then I would not be where I am today. I realised that nothing is impossible if you really want to achieve it. I managed to arrange a meeting with the other school. I was given a chance. I got accepted. I still remember the expression of her face when I told her that I got accepted at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design. Gobsmacked is an understatement.

Graphic design and photography. That is a good combination. I am grateful that I ended up with what Isaiah Brookshire calls a +1 skills combo.

Those skills are handy when your business partner propose that you invest and start up an ice cream brand.

Naming a business is similar to naming a child. Being a parent I already know how time consuming that process can be. On the other hand, a very tight deadline puts the brain in creative hyper drive and delivers faster than mother nature. Thus, Nia Bella was born. Prematurely? Maybe, born nonetheless and screaming for a logo. Time for a coffee break. Armed with a Artline pen and a drawing pad, various options were tested and discarded until one was deemed worthy of exploring.

Concept drawing. Giving a gift and cartoon cuteness galore.

Concept drawing. Deciding on shape, working on element options.

Concept drawing. Final route to explore further.

Only when I had a direction worth exploring, it was time to put to use an iPad application that another graphic designer introduced me to, Paper.  I realised that it eased up the colour exploration and design process tremendously. Once the overall look and feel of the logo had been achieved I could email myself the result.

Paper in action.

Only then it was time to start Illustrator and do a refined vector version as seen implemented on the business card image.

Nia Bella business card.

Now it’s time to enjoy a scoop of ice cream, that I just realised. As our slogan says: “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”

 

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Photography

A portrait is not a portrait – the tale of two portrait sessions

Shan

Shan arrived at the studio with her mother and Ian arrived with his business partner. They both arrived at different days.

Shan lives in Singapore and wanted to have more images for her model portfolio and we had decided via email to do simple portrait/beauty style shots. Ian, on the other hand, lives in Vietnam and needed a business portrait of himself for his newly founded business.

“A portrait is not a portrait” the same way they say “This is not a pipe” or, as often heard in the region,  “Same same but different” .

Two very different outcomes indeed, both in photographic style, composition, as well as mood and tone. Enjoy!

Ian

Shan

Shan

Shan

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Photography

Fortune favours the prepared mind – The race for a sunset location in Tra Vinh

Sunset in Tra Vinh.

We roamed around the country side all day, passing fields being harvested and stopped wherever we felt would be a good location. As the daylight started to decrease its strength, we started contemplating a suitable location for a sunset shot. Something visually interesting that could serve as a silhouetted foreground. After a wild goose chase along narrow countryside lanes a fraction of the standardised size of an European pavement, we reached the conclusion that we would not find what we were looking for along these paths. Racking our brains for an answer as dusk was setting in, we decided to head back to one of our first places of the day, a field with a small river running next too and with a wooden footbridge.

This was the very moment the effort of carrying a tripod all day paid off. These images could not have been captured unless at an increased ISO setting, a trade off I did not like. Without a tripod, we probably would have headed off to the local restaurant earlier as driving after dark on countryside roads are not something you really want to do. Not on a weekend anyway, when the rate of drunk drivers increase as the evening sets in and more alcohol has been consumed. Enjoy the sunset, we sure did!

Sunset in Tra Vinh.

Sunset in Tra Vinh and capturing the right moment.

Sunset in Tra Vinh.

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Photography

The Mouse, The Snake & Facing your Fears in Tra Vinh

The Mouse

Saigon 5am a Friday morning. We are setting off on our road trip to our destination, Tra Vinh. 10.30am we check in to our hotel with sore buttocks. A few pitstops on the way, each one proved more and more difficult to dismount the bike as the soreness increased. It was worth it. We will be back. I ended up with 3400 raw captures over those three days we stayed. It will take me much longer to process and edit those images than the trip itself, however, the first story is the one about the mouse and the snake.

The hotel restaurant, like many other restaurants, kept a few containers with live stock. You could order fresh seafood and, more unusual, at least to the restaurants I frequent,  you could also order live snakes.

I didn’t spot it until the following day, arriving for breakfast I saw the mouse. Standing in the only free corner with three sleeping snakes in the others. The poor mouse was terrified. It was trembling and had no escape route. It was scared. It did not want to look back at the snakes. Only stared into the corner. We felt sorry for the mouse but also did not know what to do about it. Snakes will only eat live bait. That I learned on my trip back to Norway. At Akvariet i Bergen, they use long tongs to hold dead mice and bounce them around so the snakes believe they are alive. It is illegal to feed live mice to snakes in Norway. In Tra Vinh it was clearly different.

The Snake

In the wild, snakes will hunt mice. That is a normal action for a snake and a normal fate for a mouse. Taking the mouse out of the cage would only expose the mouse to another option of death. Finishing our breakfast with our minds still thinking about the mouse, we went out and saw the mouse was no longer trembling in the corner. It had accepted its fate and faced its fear. The mouse had walked straight up to the snake. At a point it even touched the snake. The snake wasn’t interested in waking up, leaving the courageous mouse standing there, ready to face death.

This triggers other thoughts. About mortality. About ourselves and our time in this world. Will we be scared and afraid or will we be able to face and embrace death as this mouse did? It is also a reminder to not get stuck in the rut of the routine and let life pass without doing what we want to do. In my Facebook stream I recently read “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” For me, that was a few weeks back and hopefully sometime real soon. I wish the same to you, do something new soon.

Facing your fear

 

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Photography

“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” – Dianne Ackerman


“The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play,
his labor and his leisure,
his mind and his body, his education and his recreation,
his love and his religion.
He hardly knows which is which;
he simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does,

leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing.
To him he is always doing both.”

Buddha

Walking through the halls of Saint Martins for the first time, we completed the tour by heading down to the darkroom areas in the basement. The standard was far from the neatly kept and clean darkroom area I had seen at the Surrey Institute in Farnham. It went against all my previous darkroom training of keeping order. But that didn’t matter as soon as I saw a student walking past with the negative carrier tray for the darkroom enlarger filled with all kinds of layers and filters, making a triple big mac looking small in comparison. Coming from a tradition darkroom background with one negative inserted and printed at the time, being here felt right. A playground where anything goes. Try and fail. Try and fail harder. Faster. Smarter. Learn.

Heading back to the archive, ending up selecting one of my previous photo walks with Ian, images that already resulted in a previous blog post, I started re-working. Simple layering in photoshop. First step of exploration. More steps to come. Enjoy!

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No 2

GIF animation.

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