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Scenes of Spring

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Temperatures in the northern hemisphere are finally warming, flowers are blooming, and the sunshine beckons us outside once again. On a nice spring day like today, I thought I'd share some recent colorful images of the season from Germany, Japan, Scotland, the United States, and more. [28 photos]

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Thousands of Bluebells bloom, carpeting a forest near Halle, south of Brussels, Belgium, on April 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
Thousands of Bluebells bloom, carpeting a forest near Halle, south of Brussels, Belgium, on April 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
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Fire Destroys 2,000 Houses in Valparaiso

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In the port city of Valparaiso, Chile, a massive fire started late Saturday. Fueled by strong winds, flames swept across hilly residential areas, destroying more than 2,000 houses and killing at least 12. Firefighters battled the blaze throughout the weekend and are still extinguishing isolated hot spots. Today, some Valparaiso residents are being allowed to return to their homes to assess the damage, recover what they can, and plan their next steps. [32 photos]

Embers are carried by high winds as a large forest fire reaches urban areas in Valparaiso, Chile, on April 13, 2014. Authorities say the fires destroyed thousands of homes, forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 and claimed the lives of at least 12 people. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)
Embers are carried by high winds as a large forest fire reaches urban areas in Valparaiso, Chile, on April 13, 2014. Authorities say the fires destroyed thousands of homes, forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 and claimed the lives of at least 12 people. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)
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A Hundred-Pound Suit of Bees

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On Wednesday, on a hill in China's Chongqing municipality, 34-year-old beekeeper She Ping covered himself in 460,000 bees weighing 45.65kg (100 pounds) in a publicity stunt to promote his honey sales. The bee suit fell well short of the record 135 lbs claimed by India's Vipin Seth, according to Guinness. Ping claims he was stung about 20 times during the 40-minute stunt. [12 photos]

She Ping, a 34 year-old beekeeper, covered with a swarm of bees on a small hill in southwest China's Chongqing municipality on April 9, 2014. Ping released more than 460,000 bees, using queen bees to attract them to his body, and made himself a suit of bees that weighed 45.65kg (100 pounds) within 40 minutes. (AFP/Getty Images)
She Ping, a 34 year-old beekeeper, covered with a swarm of bees on a small hill in southwest China's Chongqing municipality on April 9, 2014. Ping released more than 460,000 bees, using queen bees to attract them to his body, and made himself a suit of bees that weighed 45.65kg (100 pounds) within 40 minutes. (AFP/Getty Images)
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Frozen In Time: The Cyprus Buffer Zone

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This year marks four decades since the Cyprus National Guard staged a coup that led to Turkish military intervention and escalated the civil war between the Greek and Turkish communities on the island. After the ceasefire, a heavily restricted buffer zone, controlled by the United Nations, was established between the north and south. It stretches 180 km (112 mi) across the whole island measuring 7.4 km (4.6 mi) at its widest and 3.3 m (11 ft) at its narrowest point. The demilitarized zone is restricted to the general public and no Greek or Turkish Cypriots are allowed inside. Reuters photographer Neil Hall recently visited the buffer zone, which still contains crumbling relics of times gone by - abandoned houses, businesses, and even an airport - crumbling snapshots of Cyprus in 1974. [28 photos]

The abandoned Nicosia International Airport near Nicosia, Cyprus, on March 10, 2014. For 40 years now, a buffer zone - a no-man's land controlled by the United Nations - has split Cyprus from east to west, with Cyprus's ethnic Greeks living in the south, and its Turks in the north. The buffer zone still contains crumbling relics of times gone by - abandoned houses, businesses and even an airport. In 1960, a power-sharing government crumbled soon after independence from Britain, and the island has been divided since a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by a Turkish invasion of the north in 1974. (Reuters/Neil Hall)
The abandoned Nicosia International Airport near Nicosia, Cyprus, on March 10, 2014. For 40 years now, a buffer zone - a no-man's land controlled by the United Nations - has split Cyprus from east to west, with Cyprus's ethnic Greeks living in the south, and its Turks in the north. The buffer zone still contains crumbling relics of times gone by - abandoned houses, businesses and even an airport. In 1960, a power-sharing government crumbled soon after independence from Britain, and the island has been divided since a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by a Turkish invasion of the north in 1974. (Reuters/Neil Hall)
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Smithsonian Magazine's 2013 Photo Contest

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The editors of Smithsonian magazine have just announced the 60 finalists in their 11th annual photo contest. They've kindly allowed me to share several of these images here, including some great shots from each of the competition's six categories: The Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile, a new category this year. Be sure to visit the contest page at Smithsonian.com to see all the finalists, and vote in the Reader's Choice Awards as well. [16 photos]

Finalist, Natural World category. A coastal brown bear hunts for salmon on Silver Salmon Creek in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Photographed by Daniel D'Auria of Tabernacle, New Jersey. (© Smithsonian.com)
Finalist, Natural World category. A coastal brown bear hunts for salmon on Silver Salmon Creek in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Photographed by Daniel D'Auria of Tabernacle, New Jersey. (© Smithsonian.com)
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London and the U.K. From Above

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Photographer Jason Hawkes has been making fascinating aerial images since 1991. With a gyro-stabilized camera, he takes photos directly from the open door of a helicopter. Hawkes has covered subjects around the world, but specializes in aerial shots of the United Kingdom. Once more, he's been kind enough to share some of his recent photos with us here. [24 photos]

St Michael's Mount, situated just off the Mount's Bay coast of Cornwall. See it mapped here. (© Jason Hawkes)
St Michael's Mount, situated just off the Mount's Bay coast of Cornwall. See it mapped here. (© Jason Hawkes)
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Nyepi, the Balinese 'Day of Silence'

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Every year, Hindus on the Indonesian island of Bali celebrate Nyepi, the Balinese New Year's Day. Nyepi is a day of silence, reserved for self-reflection, where people stay home and are not allowed to use lights, start fires, work, travel or enjoy entertainment -- even tourists are asked not to leave their hotels. However, the days surrounding Nyepi are anything but silent - several rituals of offering and cleansing take place before and after New Year's Day, to rid worshipers of past evils and bestow good fortune in the year ahead. Devotees burn huge demonic effigies, whip each other with fiery coconut husks, give prayers and offerings, and young couples are doused with water during a lively kissing festival. Gathered here are images from Nyepi rituals in Bali and other parts of Indonesia over the past few years. [27 photos]

A Balinese man hits another with a burned coconut husk during the "Mesabatan Api" ritual a head of Nyepi Day in Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia, on March 30, 2014. Mesabatan Api is held annually a day before the Nyepi Day of Silence, symbolizing the purification of the universe and human body through fire. Nyepi is a Hindu celebration observed every new year according to the Balinese calendar. The national holiday is one of self-reflection and meditation -- activities such as working, watching television or traveling are restricted between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. (Agung Parameswara/Getty Images)
A Balinese man hits another with a burned coconut husk during the "Mesabatan Api" ritual a head of Nyepi Day in Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia, on March 30, 2014. Mesabatan Api is held annually a day before the Nyepi Day of Silence, symbolizing the purification of the universe and human body through fire. Nyepi is a Hindu celebration observed every new year according to the Balinese calendar. The national holiday is one of self-reflection and meditation -- activities such as working, watching television or traveling are restricted between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. (Agung Parameswara/Getty Images)
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Photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus Killed in Afghanistan

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Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed today, shot to death by an Afghan policeman while covering the upcoming national election. She covered conflicts from Bosnia to Afghanistan for more than 20 years, earning a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, as part of a team of AP photographers covering the Iraq War. Last November I was very happy to be able to feature her amazing work in a photo essay titled "Afghanistan: Seen Through the Lens of Anja Niedringhaus." What I wrote then remains true: Documenting a decades-long story like the Afghanistan War is a challenge for any photojournalist, from simple logistical issues, to serious safety concerns, to the difficulty of keeping the narrative fresh and compelling. Niedringhaus did a remarkable job, telling people's stories with a strong, consistent voice, an amazing eye for light and composition, and a level of compassion that clearly shows through her images. A remarkable voice has been lost today. [30 photos]

Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus stands next to photographs from Iraq, left, and Afghanistan, right, during a press preview of her exhibition "Anja Niedringhaus At War" at the Gallery C/O in Berlin on September 9, 2011. (Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus stands next to photographs from Iraq, left, and Afghanistan, right, during a press preview of her exhibition "Anja Niedringhaus At War" at the Gallery C/O in Berlin on September 9, 2011. (Photo/Markus Schreiber)
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The Aftermath of Chile's Earthquake

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Late Tuesday night, a tremendous earthquake struck off the coast of northern Chile, near the town of Iquique. The magnitude 8.2 quake triggered a localized tsunami that battered the coastline with seven-foot waves. The shallow temblor (12.5 miles below the seabed) also set off dozens of aftershocks -- 18 of them above magnitude 5.0 so far, including a magnitude 7.6 aftershock last night. Surprisingly, damage and casualties were very limited. Several fires erupted, smaller structures suffered minimal damage, and six deaths were reported -- the victims were either crushed under debris or suffered fatal heart attacks. Today, Chile's navy cancelled a tsunami alert and its emergency office, Onemi, which had earlier asked residents to evacuate the coastline, said people could return to their homes. [25 photos]

Fishermen try to salvage their boats in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami that hit the northern port of Iquique, Chile, on April 2, 2014. The earthquake, with a magnitude of 8.2, struck off the coast of northern Chile near the copper exporting port of Iquique on Tuesday evening, killing six and triggering a tsunami that pounded the shore with 2-meter (7-foot) waves. (Reuters/Francisco Alcayaga Motta)
Fishermen try to salvage their boats in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami that hit the northern port of Iquique, Chile, on April 2, 2014. The earthquake, with a magnitude of 8.2, struck off the coast of northern Chile near the copper exporting port of Iquique on Tuesday evening, killing six and triggering a tsunami that pounded the shore with 2-meter (7-foot) waves. (Reuters/Francisco Alcayaga Motta)
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A Trip to Lesotho, the 'Kingdom of the Sky'

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The Kingdom of Lesotho is situated on a highland plateau entirely within South Africa. The lowest point in the mountainous country is 1,400 meters (4,593 ft) above sea level. It is home to 2.2 million residents, most of them poor, living off the land as farmers. Gathered here are a handful of images from across Lesotho over the past few years. [21 photos]

The mountains of the Sani Pass in the Drakensberg Mountains, between South Africa and Lesotho, on May 26, 2007. (CC BY SA Mark Peacock)
The mountains of the Sani Pass in the Drakensberg Mountains, between South Africa and Lesotho, on May 26, 2007. (CC BY SA Mark Peacock)
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The Modern Face of Kabul

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Despite decades of conflict in Afghanistan, the country's capital city of Kabul is home to a vibrant youth scene, a handful of sleek shopping malls, cafes, and more. Reuters photographer Morteza Nikoubazl recently set out to document modern Kabul, populated by musicians, artists, athletes, and activists who are trying to live 21st-century lives in spite of massive infrastructure problems and the ever-present threat of militant attacks. Afghanistan is preparing for an election on April 5 that should mark the first democratic transfer of power in the country's history, but it has been hit by a tide of violence as the Taliban has ordered its fighters to disrupt the vote and threatened to kill anyone who participates. Many of the people in these images were happy to be photographed, but did not want to give their names. This photo essay is part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan. [26 photos]

Mahmoud Hejran (2nd from left) and Zabih Hosseini (center), members of the Afghan band Tanin, play the guitar and sing as they travel back to their music studio after performing on a live TV program in Kabul on March 4, 2014. Despite decades of conflict in Afghanistan, and several recent militant attacks, the country's capital Kabul is home to a vibrant youth scene of musicians, artists, athletes and activists. Shopping malls and cafes stand in the city, which is nonetheless beset by infrastructure problems and instability. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl)
Mahmoud Hejran (2nd from left) and Zabih Hosseini (center), members of the Afghan band Tanin, play the guitar and sing as they travel back to their music studio after performing on a live TV program in Kabul on March 4, 2014. Despite decades of conflict in Afghanistan, and several recent militant attacks, the country's capital Kabul is home to a vibrant youth scene of musicians, artists, athletes and activists. Shopping malls and cafes stand in the city, which is nonetheless beset by infrastructure problems and instability. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl)
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California's Historic Drought

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The year 2013 was the driest in California's recorded history, and predictions for 2014 aren't much better. Three consecutive years of below-normal rainfall have left reservoirs at a fraction of their normal depth, seriously threatening farms in the state that grows half the nation's fruits and vegetables. California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency and signed a $687 million drought-relief package into law, and 125 additional firefighters have been hired already in anticipation of a dangerous upcoming fire season. One bright spot: gold prospecting. Amateur prospectors are flocking to the Sierra Nevada foothills, taking advantage of lower water levels to search for gold in riverbeds that have been unreachable for decades. [25 photos]

Houseboats are docked at Bridge Bay in Shasta Lake, which is 100 feet (30 meters) below its normal levels, in Shasta, California, on January 23, 2014. Now in its third straight year of drought conditions, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and reservoirs throughout the state have very low water levels. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Houseboats are docked at Bridge Bay in Shasta Lake, which is 100 feet (30 meters) below its normal levels, in Shasta, California, on January 23, 2014. Now in its third straight year of drought conditions, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and reservoirs throughout the state have very low water levels. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
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St. Petersburg From Above

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Recently, photographer Amos Chapple spent some time in Saint Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city. He used a small drone to lift his camera high above the cathedrals and fortresses, capturing some amazing aerial photos. Chapple: "There's a legend in Russia that Saint Petersburg was constructed in the blue heavens and lowered in one piece into the marshland, 'for how otherwise could a city so beautiful exist in a region so bleak.'" Chapple, has previously showed us Stalin's Rope Roads, and took us on a trip to Turkmenistan. [12 photos]

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood during a squally autumn morning. The church marks the spot where the reformist Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by a bomb-rolling revolutionary. (Amos Chapple/Rex Features)
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood during a squally autumn morning. The church marks the spot where the reformist Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by a bomb-rolling revolutionary. (Amos Chapple/Rex Features)
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At Least 14 Dead in Washington State Mudslide

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Last Saturday, at 10:45 am, part of a hillside above Oso, Washington -- known by some locals as "Slide Hill" -- collapsed after weeks of heavy rain, sending a wall of mud and debris across a small valley of the Stillaguamish River. The neighborhood below the hillside was destroyed, and more than 100 properties damaged, resulting in at least 14 verified deaths -- a number that may grow larger, as the list of missing has grown to 176. Efforts to rescue victims have been slow, as the surrounding hills remain dangerously unstable and the affected area is so large. Rescue workers continued their search throughout last night. [16 photos]

An aerial photo taken Monday, March 24, 2014, shows the massive mudslide that killed at least 14 people on Saturday and left dozens missing, near Oso, Washington. The search for survivors grew this week, raising fears that the death toll could climb far beyond the eight confirmed fatalities. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
An aerial photo taken Monday, March 24, 2014, shows the massive mudslide that killed at least 14 people on Saturday and left dozens missing, near Oso, Washington. The search for survivors grew this week, raising fears that the death toll could climb far beyond the eight confirmed fatalities. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: 25 Years Ago Today

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On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez had just entered Alaska's Prince William Sound, after departing the Valdez Marine Terminal full of crude oil. At 12:04 am, the ship struck a reef, tearing open the hull and releasing 11 million gallons of oil into the environment. Initial responses by Exxon and the Alyeska Pipeline Company were insufficient to contain much of the spill, and a storm blew in soon after, spreading the oil widely. Eventually, more than 1,000 miles of coastline were fouled, and hundreds of thousands of animals perished. Exxon ended up paying billions in cleanup costs and fines, and remains tied up in court cases to this day. The captain, Joseph Hazelwood, was acquitted of being intoxicated while at the helm, but convicted on a misdemeanor charge of negligent discharge of oil, fined $50,000, and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service. Though the oil has mostly disappeared from view, many Alaskan beaches remain polluted to this day, crude oil buried just inches below the surface. [39 photos]

The damaged oil tanker Exxon Valdez, towed out of Alaska's Prince William Sound by a tugboat and a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, on June 23, 1989. On March 24, 1989, the tanker ran hard aground on Bligh Reef, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sound -- at the time, the largest oil spill disaster in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
The damaged oil tanker Exxon Valdez, towed out of Alaska's Prince William Sound by a tugboat and a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, on June 23, 1989. On March 24, 1989, the tanker ran hard aground on Bligh Reef, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sound -- at the time, the largest oil spill disaster in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
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The First Day of Spring

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Yesterday was the vernal equinox, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, despite continued wintry conditions in a few places. As the sunlight becomes more prevalent, people, plants, and animals are beginning to emerge from their winter modes to step outside, bloom, and otherwise welcome the sunshine. These photos show glimpses of the new season from around the world, as we shake off the winter and greet the spring. [26 photos]

A Palestinian man and his daughter pick wild mustard flowers, which grow in open fields across the Gaza Strip, on March 20, 2014, as the official start of spring was marked by the by the Vernal Equinox. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
A Palestinian man and his daughter pick wild mustard flowers, which grow in open fields across the Gaza Strip, on March 20, 2014, as the official start of spring was marked by the by the Vernal Equinox. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
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In Syria: Three Years of War

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Last weekend marked the third anniversary of Syria's civil war, a conflict that has, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, claimed the lives of more than 146,000 people, at least a third of them civilians. As forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appear to be making slow progress against rebel forces, the humanitarian crisis has grown astronomically -- as many as 2.5 million Syrians have now fled the country. Fractured rebel groups continue to fight each other, as well as Assad's troops, with civilians bearing the brunt of attack and counterattack, their neighborhoods reduced to rubble by mortar shells and barrel bombs. Gathered here are images from Syria over the past few months. [37 photos]

This picture taken the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) shows residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, queuing to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria, on January 31, 2014. A United Nations official is calling on warring sides in Syria to allow aid workers to resume distribution of food and medicine in a Palestinian district of Damascus. The call comes as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged Syrian government to authorize more humanitarian staff to work inside the country, devastated by its 3-year-old conflict. (AP Photo/UNRWA)
This picture taken the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) shows residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, queuing to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria, on January 31, 2014. A United Nations official is calling on warring sides in Syria to allow aid workers to resume distribution of food and medicine in a Palestinian district of Damascus. The call comes as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged Syrian government to authorize more humanitarian staff to work inside the country, devastated by its 3-year-old conflict. (AP Photo/UNRWA)
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Winners of the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards, Part I

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The Sony World Photography Awards have announced the winners of their Open, Youth, and National Award competitions today. The winners were selected from over 70,000 entries submitted by photo enthusiasts and amateurs from across the world. Overall winners and the judging of the final categories are set to be announced on April 30. I've shared some of the winners and runners-up from this year below. All captions come from the photographers. [24 photos]

Winner, Hong Kong, National Awards: In July each year, a heart-pounding scene of wildebeest migration repeats itself in Kenya. (© Chi Hung Cheung, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards)
Winner, Hong Kong, National Awards: In July each year, a heart-pounding scene of wildebeest migration repeats itself in Kenya. (© Chi Hung Cheung, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards)
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