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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre Motorsports Talk
Thread started 25 Dec 2004 (Saturday) 11:59
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STICKY: Motorsports safety for photographers

 
IndyJeff
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Dec 25, 2004 11:59 |  #1

Inspired by recent threads by KennyG I had an idea to post some general safety tips for the race track.

Over the years I have seen posts and had emails from guys about to shoot their first race asking about tips. Seldom do they concern safety. When going to cover a race, safety should be your number one priority. There is not much chance of you surviving a collision with a race car. Let's deal with this in two parts, in the turns and in the pits.

Part 1, THE TURNS

When in a turn, be aware of what is happening on the track. If the track is hot (meaning green light conditions) don't sit down. If your sitting and an incident happens, you won't get it with the camera. Also if something is coming your way and you are sitting, before you can make an evasive move you have to stand up. Now granted it doesn't take much time to stand up but, considering an average crash may last 3-5 seconds and by the time you are aware of it 1-2 seconds may have already passed. That extra second may make a difference in leaving in your car or an ambulance. I am always amazed by fans in the stands in the background who are looking the other way as a car is smashing against a wall right in front of them.
If your on the move while the track is hot always turn to watch as cars are passing by. Never turn your back on traffic.
Before shooting place yourself in a safe place. Stand somewhere that you have protection in case something comes at you and if it does, think about yourself, not getting the shot.
Plan your route of escape. If your against a wall or fence, don't run away from it when something comes at you. If a car or tire is coming at you and you run away from the fence/wall and the object comes over the wall you have nothing to hide behind. Personally I am not a big fan of dropping where you are either, I believe you should try to advance along the wall/fence in the direction the traffic is coming from, in otherwords, uptrack. If a car is coming right at you and you run uptrack and it hits where you were, chances are any debris that is thrown over the fence will be carried downtrack by the forward motion of the car, leaving you in a safer position. If you run downtrack along the wall/fence you will be right smack in the middle of any debris field that comes over the fence and will sustain injuries, possibly fatal ones.
Sometimes it happens so fast that by the time your aware that the car is coming right at you and is not going to stop all you can do is drop down behind your protection and hope that the impact will not come thru the protection.
Another factor is have liquids with you. Water, soda pop, fruit juice, anything that will keep you hydrated. Don't drink alcohol. Besides impairing your judgement it only further dehydrates you.
If it is an extrememly hot day, have a small cooler with ice and some water in it. Take a small towel, soak it in the water and drench yourself. You will be surprised how refreshing this is. A water bottle frozen the night before will thaw and provide ice cold water for quite a while.
These tips are for inside turns. If you are not very experienced in motorsports I would highly recommend that you stay away from getting on the outside of a turn. It is 100 times more dangerous than the inside.
If you are near a saftey vehicle, never ever walk in front of that vehicle when the track is hot. At Indy the safety trucks are often rolling out before the crash has even stopped. I have seen safety trucks pulling up on the scene as a car is still sliding to a stop. The IRL saftey crews are the best in the world, other safety crews study how the IRL does it. Don't be afraid to ask questions of track workers or safety people and even other more experienced photographers at that track.

Part 2, THE PITS

If you have never shot a race before I would recommend staying out of the pits. It is probably the most dangerous place at a race for a photographer. Now if you are in the pits, arrive early and scope out where you want to shoot. Talk with the crew chiefs and ask where you can shoot from. You don't want to get in their way. A pissed off crew chief can get you thrown out of the pits faster than you will know what is happening.
Crashes happen in the pits too and when they do parts fly, tires, eqiupment, fuel all can ruin your day pretty fast. Beware of what is happening on the otherside of the pitwall. If you see your car coming in for a stop, look to see who is coming behind him before you look thru the camera. Shoot the stop and occaisionly open your other eye to see whats going on outside your field of view in the camera.
If you hear the word FIRE, run, don't look back get out of there ASAP. The last thing safety workers/fireman and team members need is to have to go around you to put the fire out.
Always be looking, left, right, in front of you, behind you. Know what is happening.

Last but not least in pit action coverage, some tracks require it and some don't but, invest in a firesuit. It may save your life.

RFM or Kenny or Ian if you can think of anything I have left out, please add it.

**EDIT** Also See
Etiquette for the sidelines


On shooting sports...If you see it happen then you didn't get it.

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defordphoto
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Dec 25, 2004 12:25 |  #2

We've had some awesome posts here. Thanks Kenny and Jeff!

The absolute number one rule when shooting any kind of motorsports is to never, ever, under ANY circumstances turn your back to the cars on a hot track and especially the pits. Walk backwards if you have to.

When crossing the hot pitlane from the "island" into the pits, if the series let's you onto the island, always cross diagonally facing the direction of the oncoming cars.

If you want to chimp your photos, get away from the track. I've seen photogs tossed from pitlane for chimping.

Do not rely on "Jersey" barriers if a car is coming at you. I've seen cars move these barriers several feet. You will be killed if one rolls over onto you.

Always, without exception, follow the official's directions. Again, I have seen photogs tossed for ignoring directions. Attend all safety meetings. For most series, this is mandatory or you don't get a photo vest.

If in doubt, ask an official.

If you see any hazardous conditions, report these to the officials. If you see a photog getting him/herself into a hazardous condition, advise them of such. It is also your responsibility to report photogs who abuse the rules and the privileges of shooting.

Some of these may seem a bit over-cautious, but there are plenty of dead photographers that have helped produce these safety precautions.


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iwatkins
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Dec 25, 2004 15:14 |  #3

I'm by no means a professional like the above (nice posts guys), but in my experience it does actually pay to understand the motorsport you are shooting for two main reasons:

1) Understanding the motorsport means you can understand what will happen if something does go wrong.
2) Understanding the motorsport means you can position yourself for the best shots.

Example: World Rally Cars are very fast. Everyone knows that. But if you haven't seen them in the flesh, not many people realise how fast they can accelerate, even on the loose stuff. If there is a jump after a turn, positioning yourself for a *safe* shot is easy if you understand this, it isn't if you don't.

Conversely, the Super 1600 cars are also fast but do not accelerate anywhere close to as fast as the WRC cars. So when they are running you can move up towards the jump for the big "airtime" shot.

Rallying is also dangerous and as there are not normally any barriers at all, the rules above with regards to taking your eyes off the road stand even more so.

Add to that the much less dramatic anti-lag systems on WRC cars these days (and following regs. changes over the next few years), it is quite possible for a WRC car to be upon you before you can hear it. In the old days you could hear a works Escort Cosworth about four miles away and that was usually the other side of a mountain :D

In my recent experience you cannot rely on marshals to blow whistles to warn of an approaching car. Alot of recent events this simply isn't done.

You used to be able to rely on this and if you wanted to cross the live stage you could do safely and you just made sure you were safe by the time you heard the whistle.

Add the quieter cars to the lack of whistles to the fact that the 2 minute gap between cars through the stage is sometimes 5 seconds or 3 minutes (due to holdups, broken cars etc.), then I decided a long time ago I simply wouldn't cross a live stage if I couldn't see far enough up the stage to make that crossing safely.

As I'm in the UK I had just had to grin at Jeff's idea of taking ice water. In the UK the opposite is usually true. Take warm clothes, warm food, warm drink. If you are cold (and usually tired) then you reactions are slowed which isn't good for your safety and also not good for your photography.

Cheers

Ian




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IndyJeff
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Dec 25, 2004 15:54 as a reply to iwatkins's post |  #4

Thanks for that post Ian. I couldn't help but laugh when you said about the cold instead of the heat. There was an Indy 500 a couple of years ago that I slept in a sleeping bag in my van wearing sweat pants and sweat shirt with a tee shirt inder that. Race day, I still had the sweatshirt on and now was sporting a jacket. It was cold, I mean nothing like it is today but, in May in Indy when temps are in the upper 40's lower 50's with no sun and a brisk breeze blowing, it's freaking cold! Kong can probably remember that race, if he is still reading here.

As far as the races you cover, man you have my upmost respect. I can just imagine what it is like to stand beside a track with no wall or fence to protect you. John Mahoney, with whom I shoot in turn 3 at Indy, has been doing this for years. He brought in some pictures that were taken back in the early 70's. Where I now stand was wide open. No fence until you got back to the spectator area which may be 200 feet from the track. I asked him where you stood then, his reply was "Anywhere you felt safe". LOL


On shooting sports...If you see it happen then you didn't get it.

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iwatkins
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Dec 25, 2004 16:18 |  #5

:D

I certainly always try to get some safety cover. Trees tend to be good bet as I don't know many trees that will move at all when hit with a rally car. Steep natural banking is also good to be up on as the cars can't get up there (in most cases) and also give you a different angle.

The ones who get my total disrespect are the ones who stand on the actual road to get the shot then run out of the way at the last minute. What if they tripped, what if the car is offline on approach etc. (I admit these type of bozo photogs are usually found in southern parts of Europe). I can't help but cringe when this happens.

As for cold, I remember years ago when World Rally was "proper", we used to spend four days on the road driving the length and breadth of the UK keeping up with the Lombard RAC Rally (as the UK round of the WRC was called then).

There was always four of us sharing a car, taking in turns to drive and sleeping overnight in it. One year it was so cold up in Keilder that our breath had frozen so much overnight there was about half an inch of ice over the inside of all the glass and most of the rest of the inside of the car. One guy got frostbite on the tip of his nose.

But we still enjoyed ourselves, this is what motorsport meant to us then. :D

Ian

Example of being in the right place at the right time (not my shot, belongs to SWRT):

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Dec 25, 2004 16:46 |  #6

An absolutly awsome series of threads guys!

They need to have links to them put in one stickied thread somewhere, so others can find them later on.

And some tips for photographing rallys based on my experiance as aspectator/crew.
On every corner there are two points you should never stand close to the track. To close is with in reach of a car traveling at full speed missing the corner.
One is the very inside, right at the apex, and the other is the out side, from the apex on in the direction of travel.
If something goes wrong these are the two places you can almost garuntee the car will leave the road.

Also be double aware of escape routes. Standing on the road side of a wire fence might get you close to the action, but how quickly can you get over that fence if a car comes at you?
Or how quickly can you scramble up that bank behind you? Iv watched a rally car chase spectators 6 feet up a steep bank.
Things like ditchs, trees and other spectators can all get in your way if you have to move in a hurry.
And beaware that not all crashs occur on corners.
Its quite possible to lose cotrol while going in a straight line, especialy on an un-even gravel road.
If your standing on a straight, but the cars coming past you, or at you, are looking very twitchy or getting small amouts of air be very aware that one could leave the raod at any time.


If you want to photograph the service areas treat them like pit lans and follow all of IndyJeff's tips.
But be extra aware, cars may be coming at you from all directions, not just one, and you need to look out for service vechiles as well as race cars.
A service park can be a very highly charged intense atmosphere, especialy if things are not going right.
A crew working madly to get a car running again may make for great photos, but will also get very angry if you get in thier way.

And don't be afraid to talk to people and get to know the service crews.
They generaly know more about the event than anyone else there, and from my own experiance are all extremly friendly and always willing to help.
Getting to know them will get you tips on what cars maybe coming in with damage, or in need of urgent repairs, and they all have advice on good corners and favorite stages to spectate, as well as knowledge of access to parts of stages that not many other people know about.


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KennyG
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Dec 25, 2004 17:40 |  #7

Safety is a very big issue on UK circuits Jeff. As an accredited photographer I have to have £5m ($10m US) of public liability cover, just in case an accident is my fault. I have more flexibilty than most other people on circuit as regards where I can go and I therefore have to recognise the risks to others as well as myself because of this freedom.

Ovals and UK race circuits (apart from Rockingham) are miles apart in what you can and can't do as a photographer. For example, I can cross the track between races or work on the start grid (assuming a standing start of course) which means you have to have to be fully aware of what is going on around you. The race may be over and you are crossing the track, but you should still watch out for a course car or recovery vehicle. Ears are as important as eyes when you are moving around the circuit and a pocket scanner does not come in wrong either.

I agree totally with the suggestion of checking your escape route, think of it as a mini fire drill. In the UK we are proteced by no more than low metal barriers on wooden posts, sometimes with one or two rows of tyres in front. Not a lot to stop a 150mph racing car heading straight for you. I learned to shoot with both eyes open for that very reason. We have no wire catch fences to stop debris coming our way (they are behind us) so a crash on circuit could mean a quick duck down to avoid the odd errant tyre or chunk of CF. You really have to be aware of what is going on around you at all times. And yes, run towards the traffic, not away from it so you can see what is happening as well avoiding the aftermath.

If I were to suggest that you go to your busiest freeway, stand behind a 4ft high metal barrier on the outside of a turn and, just for the hell of it, have an 8ft high fence 5ft behind you so you can't run away, you would doubtless think I was trying to get you killed. This is what most UK motorsport photographers do every weekend. We are nuts, plain nuts!

Pit lanes are very dangerous places and I enjoy working there. Again, there are differences in the UK with only a small number of our race series requiring pit stops, so working there isn't that common. It tends to only be the Enduro, GT or EERC races where fuel refills happen, so fireproof suits are not required. You must however follow the pit marshals instructions to the letter, and if they say move, move! Never, ever turn your back to the pit lane entrance during a race unless you want to become another oil slick.

My shooting vest has large interior pockets. Useless for camera gear but very handy for four cans of Red Bull or, in the cold weather, for a couple of those short dumpy thermos flasks with hot drinks. On Tuesday next week I will be shooting a rally and trust me, I will not only be wrapped up very warm and have hot drinks, but I will be taking a couple of thermal pouches with me (crush them and they heat up).

I will be shooting at an oval as well as a circuit closer to UK standards in the US next year and will take on board everything Jeff has said. I don't want to be scraped up and put in a box the size my 500L came in to be sent back home.


Ken
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IndyJeff
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Dec 25, 2004 18:01 as a reply to KennyG's post |  #8

Outside shooting is some scarey stuff to say the least. My avatar is of Buddy Rice at Kentucky Speedway in 03. It was shot right as they come off the dogleg heading for turn 1. About 2 laps after I shot the avatar shot, Al Unser Jr and Alex Barron were running together in the final practice session. I really wanted a good head on of both of them. I got one with 3 cars in it, those two and Scott Sharp. Well the next lap I was focusing on Alex Barron. I shot as he approached me and just as I fired off a few frames I pulled the camera down only to be staring at Al Unser Jrs car about 3 feet from me at 200 MPH! He had gotten a little wide or loose and drove up the track some. Later that day I saw him in the garage area and mentioned that he about made me soil my pants. He laughed and said he did drift a little higher than he had planned when he passed Sharp but, in his ever present humor he said that if he were going to hit, he would have blown the horn to warn me.

That night at the hotel as I was reviewing the days images when I got to that sequence I got a chill because if he would have hit, it would have been within 10 feet of me either way along the wall. It will give you some instant respect for on track activity I am here to tell you!

I once had a shoot where 6 trucks and a pace truck were coming at me out of a turn. I was in the middle of the track, down on one knee. The pace truck went to the outside and the other trucks I split right down the middle. Even at 25 MPH that was scary as hell. Of course the whole thing had been set up and I personally spoke to each driver and told them, on the second lap I would be in the middle of the track as they came out of turn 2. DON'T FORGET ME AND DON'T HIT ME!!!!
It turned out to be the shot the client used in their brochure promoting their truck racing experience. The best part was it was not anything the client ahd thought about, I came up with that idea and it worked.
It was scary but not as scary as Mr. Unser and his near miss.


On shooting sports...If you see it happen then you didn't get it.

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vwpilot
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Dec 25, 2004 21:40 |  #9

I wont add much as most of it has been covered.

But I do want to re-emphasize the point about jersey barriers, k-walls or whatever the cement barriers are called in your neck of the woods.

The shot below was taken at Road Atlanta during the Petit Le Mans this year. Two cars had just been cleaned up from hitting this barrier. This barrier was set down into the soil about a foot or so at least. Look how far this barrier moved!!! It completely dug up the soil behind it and moved more than a foot backward. These barriers were also tied together, so they were pretty well seated, but that did not stop the movement. That wall was straight.

In addition, parts flew over the wall and actually caused a fire in the grass behind the barrier. I think it was pieces of hot metals, not fuel, so you would likely not have been burned, but hot pieces of flying metal do not make for a great day when they hit you.

There is a lot of mass behind a crashing car. Those barriers are very heavy, but do not hold up against a 2000 lb. object hitting it at over 100 mph. Be aware, know your escape routes and dont take any protection for granted.

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KennyG
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Dec 26, 2004 02:30 |  #10

Here is an example of what can happen to the barriers in the UK. It was hit by a BTCC car that had to travel across 40ft of gravel trap before arriving at the barrier. That should have taken most of the inertia, but as you can see, if it wasn't for the marshals post the barrier would have been flattened. This was taken at 70mm, so you can estimate how close I was.

Safety can not be taken too seriously.

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Ken
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Trunkmonkey
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Dec 14, 2006 14:42 as a reply to KennyG's post |  #11

Wow. No replies in this thread for almost two years? I'll have to rectify that... ;)

First of all, in addition to being a photographer, I'm also a ProRally driver competing in the Rally America Eastern Regional Championship, SCCA New England Division Rallycross Series, and Boston BMW CCA Ice Racing series. In a nutshell, I've got six years of amateur driving experience under my belt, four years of working, photographing, and marshaling National-level ProRally events, and two years of driving National-level ProRally events.

So here's a different slightly tongue-in-cheek take on safety from a driver's standpoint:

Rule #1: You're in my way and I will hit you.

As the photographer, it's your job to get out of my way. If you're in my way, I will assume that you'll be out of my way by the time I get to you. Period. If I modified my racing line to avoid every photographer that appeared to be in my way I'd be upside-down in the weeds a half dozen times by now.

I don't care if you've got the latest and greatest L glass. I don't care if you're a highly-paid motorsports photojournalist. I don't care if the contents of your camera bag cost more than my car.

All I know is that I just committed to a gravel hairpin turn in third gear and your tripod is where my bumper wants to be while I'm sliding sideways at 50 MPH. While I'd rather not have a dent in my car from your equipment, I'm fairly certain that your lens is softer than my hood and the hood is cheaper to repair.

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Bad photographer, no biscuit!

Rule #2: Stay behind the yellow tape means stay behind the yellow tape.

IMAGE: http://www.trunkmonkey.com/Scrapbook/Gallery/WTLW/2003_LDR_STPR_MagicTape.jpg

The yellow tape is there for a reason. Stay behind it. Yes, physics dictates that yellow tape will stretch, but staying behind the yellow tape infers staying behind the demarcation line that the yellow tape was originally tied at. See Rule #1.

Rule #3: I can't see you and I'm not looking for you.

My eyes are either looking at the 10 pound rock that I'm approaching at 80+ MPH or looking at the treeline a quarter mile down the road while I try to figure out which way the road goes behind that blind corner. My navigator is head-down in the routebook or looking at the rally computer. If you're unlucky enough to be in my way somewhere in between that 10 pound rock and the treeline a quarter mile down the road, see Rule #1.

Rule #4: If I hit you, I expect photos.

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Flash cards are quite resilient to impact. If I'm forced to retire from an event due to a collision with your dumb self then I expect there to be spectacular photos of the incident in question. Using the above photo to display where my navigator and I are looking, see Rule #3.

Rule #5: Even if I don't hit you I'll still pelt you with rocks.

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Rocks hurt. A lot. Rocks damage lenses. A lot. The difference between a good motorsports photograph and a great motorsports photograph has a direct correlation to how many rocks I pelt you with. And, if you bring me the rock that shattered your lens, I'll sign it for you as long as you give me a copy of the photograph.

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IndyJeff
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Dec 14, 2006 22:22 as a reply to Trunkmonkey's post |  #12

LMAO great post from a drivers point of view Trunkmonkey.


On shooting sports...If you see it happen then you didn't get it.

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Jan 06, 2007 12:01 |  #13

That's some funny stuff there Trunkmonkey...good job




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irene ­ b
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Jan 06, 2007 16:57 |  #14

rofl.. good post, with some serious points..

I'm only a beginner, but I really appreciated reading this thread. One thing I will say, shooting from the 'spectator's' side of the fence (at the present time) .. Is that you know there's likely to be more than the usual amount of danger when the marshals come and join YOU on your side of the fence as a spectator..

I really would like to get into motorsport photography so I'm currently trying to get to as many events as I can here in the UK (was fortunate to get to winter testing in Spain) trying to practice on as many different formulaes, etc.. to get experience and work out what I should and shouldn't be doing (any advice is greatly appreciated).

So last November I went to truck racing at Brands Hatch. I didn't know what to expect to be honest, but having attended a few events there, I spend quite abit of time at Druids. And when I saw the Marshals jumping over the fence and coming to join me.. I wondered just what exactly was going to be headed in my direction

IMAGE: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/112/288729745_10e90554c2.jpg

It was a good event and there were no major incidents.
IMAGE: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/116/288734449_157fa608ef.jpg

But this one needed a tow out of the gravel trap.



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Zilly
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Jan 06, 2007 17:18 |  #15

a few drag racing warnings

1 dont stand behind a jet car no matter how far away you are

2 do not stand to close to the side of a jet car unless you realy like the bold pink look

3. always stay on your feet no matter where you are youve got to be ready to move sharp ish

4 never stand in front of the safty wagons

5 never lean on the armco

6. just because its only a rwyb event dosnt mean you can relax there more likly to hit the armco early cause of inexpirence

7dont change lenses unless you like hundreds of black spots on the sensor

8 do where ear defenders

9 never focus all you attention threw the lense stuff is happing all around you that COULD hurt

10 do stand too close to a meth burner if you like the effects of tear gass :D (excessive abuse can cause damage)

11 do have fun

12 do get sun burnt

13 and do end up smelling of rubber and nitro for weeeks :D

IMAGE: http://i63.photobucket.com/albums/h152/zilly_photos/IMG_0197.jpg

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