THE PHOTO INDUSTRY 🎞  📸 📽


Shootout


History And Demise Of The Industry


📸  The Beginning - Camera Sales And Diamonds  — My first jobs were in the camera industry in New York, the Mecca of the retail camera business.   It was not so different from buying a car.   Creative cheating produced profits. It was prevalent in the entire industry… It was not my way and I passed on retail sales, as, and because the way it was being conducted. 

I met a fellow who was selling telescopes and binoculars on 17th street in Manhattan.   His name was Joe Ehrenreich.  His name became synonymous with Nippon Koyagaku also known as Nikon.  My other inspiration was Marty Forshner the Dean Of Camera Upgrade and Repair.  Two of the greatest names in the adolescent business part of the camera industry.

You needed to lie… to be competitive, there were so many gypsy dealers, technique evolved.  A white lie but still a lie… In essence it was provoked by a group intent of profit and they are still around today…  lets just say they were right wingers and I was  a left winger.  

The more I learned drove me to Nikon...I became a NIkonoholic, and carried Nikon for 53 years…. Today I am a SONY-IST and not looking back… I didn’t leave Nikon, Nikon left me when the pricing, quality and performance lapsed, today they are third or fourth in sales, not number one.  A chain of bad engineering recently is to blame.  And looking more into other digital enterprises, better explained they stopped production in Japan and now build in Thailand, China — Any where cheap labor is found.

All three major camera companies, actually are all heavily involved in moving more into Medical and Artificial Intelligence, Cameras are not a priority now.


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📸 THE SCHEME EXISTS TODAY — The camera business developed and was tied to the diamond business, diamonds made great financial gain when raw futures turned into fabulous gems.  But to raise the kind of funding you needed to play that market, it took cash. Thousands of percent profit when rocks became diamonds.

Selling cameras worked, you got paid mail order by credit card, cash, etc and you bought diamond futures.  You bill for those cameras from Canon, Nikon, and others had generous terms, known as the 2-3% discount for thirty days.   I can do a lot of money by having a million dollars free for thirty days. The industry was supported by those thirty days and it was a cash cow.

The camera business, the retail sales “ fueled” a great part of the Diamond business, ever wonder why they are so close together in NYC.  Literally it was an out the back door to a relative in the diamond business, great profits were made for their cause, and yes things change and the same folks now own the diamond mines, and diamonds are ( No pun intended)  “hard currency”.   An uncut diamond bought on the future market  after cutting and polishing into many saleable good diamonds appreciates in value by a thousand or so percent. 


📸  LENS SWAPPING -  A NOT SO BETTER LENS  —  You wanted a camera and then you were pitched on an Upgraded variable 28-80mm unknown brand lens which was real slow junk they sold you on, costing them about 19 dollars and it was the switch.   If you bought a Nikon or Canon, and especially the Asahi Pentax, a given,  as you gave up the 50 mm F.2 superbly sharp and fast lens factory lens and got a junk Japanese or Chinese variable 28-80  “ Knockoff lens” .    The salesman said look how smooth it is, the axle grease it was packed in was more resilient than the aircraft grade bearing grease I used on my airplane.

Result: Bad pictures, slower lens… And then the dealer ordered in a body only for your good authorized lens he now owns and had a factory camera and lens for sale at full price and the game started over again with the next customer. The mail order guys were not your friend.  

“ It’s not what they tell you, it’s what they don’t tell you.   A friend commented, sounds like “ Car Selling One - O - One”.  Could not be truer  —  


📸  THE BIGGEST LIE  — The next step was the ten dollar cheap glass protective filter on the cheap  “ Upgraded 28-80mm variable junk lens”,  from the knockoff companies they talked you into.  The cheap glass filter that cost 87 cents just made 9.13 profit and you now had a great camera body with a crap lens and a crap filter.  

In mathematics, crap plus crap equals crappier.  The broken dropped lens on display on the counter was supposed to ward off bad spirits and to persuade you to buy the filter.  Light, color and speed were sacrificed and now image has to go through two layers of crap. 

No one in particular, all the dealers in NYC were doing it. It was a huge mail order rip-off.   So the local camera stores learned how the game was played.   Then they ordered bodies, no lenses,  they had plenty of base lenses from the victims and made a second killing.  Many were grey market with no US warrantee. 

If you dropped  a two pound camera on a hard surface that piece of glass will not prevent mount moves, cheap lenses with poor fits, rim damages, a hot of other bad things, and just maybe if that,  “ Protective filter” was poor glass, ruin every shot you took with slow film.  In  rain I simply used a clean piece of saran wrap to protect the camera… And the lens cap when ready to shoot.

We determined the best use for those filters was to take them, and make special effects filters out of them by light bead blasting to emulate fog,  etching or scratching  90 degree diagonal crossed  lines in them,  which made star filters,  center weighted fog filters for portrait, using a coin and hairspray in variable sizes using a penny, a nickel, dime, or quarter.


📸  DOUBLE DIPPING  —  A cheap price for the camera, the newspaper and magazines were before the internet,  but did you want the strap, lens caps and other accessories ( which came free in the box initially, extra)  It was like buying a car and being charged extra for the tires and then they sold you undercoatings and protective sealants for the paint.  The phony price wars amongst the NY camera dealers.


📸  GREY MARKET PRODUCTS MADE THINGS VERY BLURRY  —  It was very competitive and there were Grey market  ( products brought in from other than factory distributors, in a  sense Black Market stuff ) dealers all over the place.  Even film destined by KODAK to go to “ Slobovia”  got dragged off the docks and sold to US retail stores under the table...  Overseas prices were cheaper and some never made it to ” Slobovia”,  all part of a scheme…  Band H and Adorama both have their own supply lines and sold greenmarket.  They are that big establishing their own wholesale lines. They own the market.


📸  KODAK NEVER PLAYED STRAIGHT or EQUAL WITH DEALERS  —   We received our film and chemicals from Kodak as a franchisee and expected to pay the same as everyone else who was on the “KODAK PLAN”.  That was what we had been told was the process, equality for all dealers.

Down the street a K-MART had opened and advertised it’s new Camera and Film Processing department. So I decided to see what they were up to.  Film, namely KodaColor was $2.00 wholesale a roll and retailed at $3.19.  Thats what we paid for it and thats what it was supposed to sell for.   At K-Mart I bought two rolls for four dollars.  Everyday low pricing…  They were selling at my wholesale cost.

Back to the store and that package that came that morning, the driver saw Kodak and thought it was for us.  But it was for the K-Mart Store.   Low and behold the invoice said ten bricks of twenty rolls = 200 total.  But there was twelve bricks in the box.  240 rolls.  Thats how Kodak cheated the smaller  and independent dealers.  Invoice correct, over packaged with additional merchandise.  We told other dealers and Fuji film became very popular in Florida.


📸  FUJI FILM DROPS IN  —  About two weeks later a representative from FUJI came by. Tom knew him.  We had met at the PMAI and sampled his film and I liked it.  And was compatible with our chemistry.  Cameras Film Etc became one of the first Fuji film dealers in Florida and sold a lot of film and the customers liked it too.  Better pricing too.  We told many of our other dealers…

Fuji handles greens well and Florida had a lot of green and great skin tones.  Then we investigated a new chemical company that was producing chemicals for the giant labs and we cut most of Kodak’s chemistry out,  when they agreed to sell in smaller quantities to dealers like us.   That green layer made bad lawns look good... 

And we sold more processing, better chemistry and the proof of the pudding is Kodak is gone now, many said they got too arrogant and Fuji is very healthy and doing well world wide. And Rochester is gone… some of the land is reclaimed but nothing great.   Read On Great Change Coming From Fuji Who Is Realizing The Market Has Changed


📸  NEW YORK BAIT AND SWITCH  —  There was so much bait and switch, and there were twenty dealers to choose from by mail and those camera magazines. It was an experience, I was brought up differently,  I did not care for it and made some new friends.  I met a real gentleman  by the name of  Joseph Ehrenreich from a place on 17th street In the City, with a brand I had not heard ofNippon Koyagaku who was selling optical gear like telescopes, binocs and microscopes, eventually getting into being the US  distributor for Nikon and Nikon Cameras.  I carried Nikon for fifty-seven plus years till I went with SONY.

Another wonderful guy by the name of Marty Forscher, the Dean Of Camera repairs and alterations. You had a Nikon and wanted a certain Minolta lens to work with it?   No problem, see Marty.  Thats what it was like before the internet, it changed all things, some for the good, some for the bad and there is the whole story of the industry as I saw it in the beginning years. 

   

THE DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT

BEGINNING OF THE END

📸  CHANGE IS BOTH GOOD AND BAD  —  The entire industry as we knew it has died with the demise of the retail camera store.  We went from selling product, teaching, training, seminars, comforting mess ups, fixing bad work in the lab, passing knowledge on to customers with classes and a learned higher level series improving the people skills and their science of photography, the art of light...

We went to cellphone photography, the popularity… selfies… who doesn’t love one self?  And the ability to show the world.  We became the buy it, use it, abuse it, and throw it out generation.  I simply do not buy high end anymore on some items.  I look for the features I need and expect to dump it at the end of its career. 

For the ten thousand dealers, closed doors and for some bankruptcy.  We had many customers and friends, photo trips and seminars, thats all gone now.  

Twenty years ago the average attendance at the PMAi trade only show was 35,000 people from all over the world, and took a week to go through it in Vegas. 

Five days on the floor which took the entire LVCC both levels and no computers or cell phones in those days. Radio shack mini-walkie talkies were the communication.  I still have mine. Doesn’t work but its impressive on the shelf.  the parties at Nikon were over the top, they really owned the business and treated dealers well until  —  

Few independent Camera stores without a lab survived the onslaught of the big box, the web and cellphones. Something like less than 450 independent stores are left in the entire country. The pic at the top is from my last convention and roundup…thirty-three trips there. With other interest sometimes twice a year.  I knew my way around Vegas as well as some taxi drivers.


📸  TRADE SHOWS  —  BASICALLY IT BECAME CHINA ON DISPLAY  —  The Photo Industry Vegas Trade Only shows are gone, replaced by the CES, which is all cellphones, TV’s, toys, computers and gaming in addition to about 50,000 companies selling cell phone covers.  

Photography is now a state of electronics, where at one time it was a country all its own and covers and extra batteries were hot.

The majors (Nikon and Canon, SONY and Fuji, Panasonic) knowing there aren’t enough dealers to support the thousands of dollars it cost to do a show went to retail shows, smart move.  Direct consumer.

Two shows East and West Coast occur for the smaller jobbers and distributors in the industry.  One day of the usual three day show is dealers ( maybe) the next two or three are open to the public.  COVID 19 killed all that too

The retail shows allow the reps get to talk to thousands of end users. To my knowledge the public or retail show at the Javits in NY and one in Anaheim are whats left in addition to trade specific (Wedding Seminar - Kelby Photoshop - and Pro Organizations) which are shrinking in attendance as well.  And going up in price. If you are doing two weddings a year you won’t gain much spending a grand for a weekend.


📸  THE WEDDING MARKET - CELLPHONES  —  AND COLLAPSE  — The wedding market is crippled too.  I never took on low end Weddings, left them to the warriors, the cheap 100-300 dollar end of the business is not a means of survival.   If you did fifty-two weddings a year at $200 dollars you didn’t make the poverty level.  Thats a part time job, and if you edit a lot it’s a five dollar an hour job and a lot of liability.

Then you walk in the hall and see disposable cameras on the table, and everyone has a cellphone.  The millennial’s, brought up on smart phones are not traditionalists.  Few aftermarket sales of albums and coffee table books cut into profit.  You give them a decoded disk and they will make their own or not care at all.

The better cellphones have cameras equal to the point and shoot which killed that market.  We sold ten point and shoots to one DSLR.   People spend 1000 dollars for a phone they’ll dump in two years but won’ t buy a decent camera for a lifetime. The camera was inconvenient and the phone glued to their head is their communication lifeline.  Today those cameras excelled over any point and shoot made.  Phone algorithms, Sony Chips, and Tamron Lenses, in Apples do the trick.


 🌇   BREAKING NEWS   —  CANON IS DOWNSIZING,  AND PUTTING DEALERS ON NOTICE  —  Canon USA has updated its authorized dealers list, removing dozens of dealers from its network. his change took place on February 13 and initially involved 86 authorized dealers; however, Canon reached out on February 18 to clarify that certain dealers had been removed due to ‘ administrative errors’  ( Street Translation, a F*ck up) and that they had since been added back on to the list.  ( That means a significant order for Canon got them off the Sh*t list) 

As of February 18, a total of 71 authorized dealers had been removed by Canon, including destinations like 33 Street Camera, Maui Digital Imaging, Rochester Institute of Technology, Santa Monica Camera, Camera Center of New York, B&C Photo and more. New York and California experienced the largest number of removals.


📸  ELECTION WORK, SUDDENLY GOT DANGEROUS  —  WORDS HAVE MEANINGS

  • Time to punt.  After the really sick two election cycles, I am off the list for working with politicians.
  • It’s a circus, competitive even with credentials.  Don’t think for a second when a critical shot can happen you don’t get bumped, pushed or shoved out of the way.  
  • And then with some  paranoid security guards,  carrying a load of cameras can get dangerous.   
  • And T-RUMP RALLIES just like the NAZI'S held,  nutcases can attack the real press. I will not cover any T-RUMP functions unless armed.  January 6th proved that theory…  He is one sick man spreading hate and lies no different just like the popular  “ Bund Rallies”  in New York, late thirties.   My family had enough of Hitler.   
  • SARA PALIN —  Several years back I covered  Sara Pain-land, a VP candidate for a month, on tour in Florida.  Never again, you learn a lot backstage, the things voters don’t get to see.  I have never witnessed a more dysfunctional screwed-up family like this one.  She is one sick bitch…  I thought I was filming the sequel to “ One flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”.  She didn’t fly she ran through with a locomotive and twenty rail cars.  She found a GOP credit card and blew 150,000 dollars of voter money on her wardrobe. An estimated $50,000 was wasted on other crap for her tribe. 
  • JUST WHEN THINGS WENT BACK TO NORMAL, T-RUMP came along and the Democratic party called me. It was a mistake to answer the phone.  As someone put it mildly , “ He could suck the air out of the room and then in a massive explosion blow it out his XXX with lies.  How did Pence survive? He filled the gap using his head.
  • Then his attacks the real press with fake news and getting ridiculed by the greatest liar since Hitler and Himmler was not appreciated by me.   And We the real press were all checked for weapons, they weren’t checking  junior NAZIS in the crowd to hear the new Fueher speak.  Secret —  My monopod was loaded with epoxied lead fishing weights and about a lethal a weapon as I would need.  I cracked coconuts with it.  
  • When he is quite dead, my forthcoming book, “ THE FARTS IN HIS SPIEL” will publish.   The fake news is anything that comes from the T-RUMP camp.  But he turned a country full-of idiots, poorly schooled Reptilian morons and imbeciles onto believers with lies…they became the Evangelical and The Ignorant base easily spotted wearing red hats with MAGA on it, the GOP base. 
  • And the worst part were the voters getting suckered in to this liar and I realized when how really ignorant of the tenets of our society and how frail it really is the American Voter because of his is ignorance. Truth does not count anymore.
  • SPORTS IS A CONGLOMERATE NOW —  We have little or no Major Sports coverage anymore as it is all contracted, as it is all Press pools, Getty, Reuters, etc, and  frankly when I covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during preseason my temperature gauge attached to my shirt registered 115 degrees on the field and at my age now (78.5)  thats asking for a heart attack and thats not joking. The kids can have it and I might add what it pays.  I did however later on,  realize my health at my age was a priority, I did  get the heart attack.  Got it on time and three stents… and still alive.
  • Our hockey team is closed environment and pooled, and fortunately two time Stanley Cup Winners…GO Bolts! Our baseball team is doing well after a few screw ups, and more shooters than customers.  And they are fighting for a new stadium, a joke, you win first,  then ask for a stadium. Football and with the gift of Brady and friends we won the Super Bowl    Now the three teams in Tampa are winning big and we may see some great upgrades after COVID-19.  ( Go Tampa, Yippee)… A larger TV is in order…
  • And what newspapers?  Printed media is a lost art and papers buy from the pools.  I survived because I was able to go out get the story and the pictures instead of a two person crew.  The Good News:  Tom Brady brought a serious look at Tampa Bay Sports and convinced the rich, you have to pay for talent, it’s not free. I suppose you get what you pay for.


📸  WHERE HAVE ALL THE CAMERA STORES GONE?  —  Business wise a camera store can be a financial disaster these days.  At one time Pinellas County,  FL  and Hillsboro County, FL  had eleven full line camera stores surrounding Tampa Bay including mine.  Almost one camera store for every gun shop.  

Today there are NO camera stores, but hundreds of gun shops.  Both retail and pawn stores selling guns.  I was in my prime an active wing, skeet, trap, and competitive IPSC three gun combat shooter, but thats not what the bulk of these gun stores are selling today.  War weapons, killing tools… I have been forced to full time carry a defensive weapon.  Too many shootings in Florida and a Republican Governor doing nothing, he is a Trumpet liar.

SIDEBAR :  At the yearly trek to Vegas, for the PMAI trade show we met with our Nikon Representative, who became the US sales manager.  He told us about “Big Box Stores” and the effect they would create eventually dominating and controlling the US retail camera market.  For every flagship pro camera level sold, the big box stores sold a hundred newbie or entry level cameras.   I believed I had heard our swan song…  I was right…

And then the internet and Amazon...



📸  HE WAS RIGHT…AND… I SHOP A LOT AT AMAZON  — I live in Tampa Bay on the Mid West Coast of Florida  — A HEAT DRIVEN CLIMATE  —  Today 93 degrees with 77% humidity.  Then came Amazon and shopping changed.  Needless to say, what I spent on gasoline, finding a parking spot  a mile from any stores front door and mixed shopping meaning five stops and starts, and that parking on a 93-95 degree day with a heat index of 105+ was no fun.  The gasoline saved is enough to pay for my prime membership, and with my heart Attack in 2021,  Heatstroke avoided, thats just age. 

Buying on the web is where the money went.  B&H and Adorama own the industry, a billion dollar one.  with most of the market share and 1800 employees,    Also the market items are not the same stuff made in the USA years ago.  Best buy was big in sales killing the local retailers but their camera department is a disaster. usually not staffed, mostly low end stuff , pros don buy there, I call it the K-Mart of Camera sales, and K-Mart is gone.  Appliances, TV, Sound Systems and Cellphones.

The last independent retail camera store dealers, if you can find one are mainly selling Chinese disposable products to maintain profit but those customers are dwindling as the cellphone allows cross shopping and seeing who has the best pricing.  

Most eBay stores are shells, just order takers, no warehouses, no facilities, no staff, no overhead no tax, no shipping and most important of all is negated by  NO QUALITY PRODUCTS  —  We refer to it as what they named their dhows or sailing boats…LE JUNK  

The horrible part is most retail camera store deal with older dyed in the wool shooters and they are aging.  The young do not take pictures, they take digital images and send to friends for free instantly... 


📸  CAMERAS REACHED A PLATEAU OF “SUFFICIENCY” SEVERAL YEARS GO  — Almost any camera released in the last 5 or so years is more-than-good-enough to capture almost any subject, and do it extremely well.  
There was a time when peer pressure and curiosity had everyone out buying their first “real” camera, but almost anyone who wanted to try photography now has, and most of those people won’t feel the need to buy another camera for a very long time (if ever) because they’re not actually interested in photography any more.  But show and tell with a cellphone is the method of communication.

📸  SURVIVAL VS SLOW DEATH  —   
Ask me what happened with the industry and the answer is that the curve between making a little money and losing money has reached a point we’re not making but losing,”

“The decision to close any business is extremely difficult for a lot of different reasons.  We had employees that have been here over 20 years. 

#1: AN “UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD”  —  “The first thing is that we’re all operating in an uneven playing field which has been influenced by the failure of states, to require the collection of sales tax from on line retailers operating outside of state,” 

#2: INFORMATION BOOM  — “The second issue has to do with the amount of, shall we say, digital information that’s now available,” Customers would sometimes seek information or seek pricing for a product, now it is a click away.

#3: MANUFACTURER MARKETING —  “The third unsustainable issue is that manufacturers have come up with a marketing strategy that involves rebates, often referred to as instant rebates, when we take them out immediately,”  But we are only reimbursed by the manufacturer for 80 %.

#4  —  THE THEOLOGY OF CHANGE — 

  • Film was eaten by digital image making, 
  • Digital image creating, allows manipulating and sharing devices.  
  • The instant and, more importantly, integrated connection to social media. Tweaking and share closes the loop. 
  • Not only capture reasonable digital images, but cameras in phones have improved.
  • They are better in the hands of neophytes to photography.  They made up for the quality gap for most consumers. 
  • This is part of the problem.   Back in film days, you had to master your starter camera, few have time today.
  • That learning translated to that first good camera, first system camera, etc. But a novice with an iPhone might learn aspects of composition real quick and if you don’t like it   — erase it.
  • They will not learn anything else useful for a jump to some much better (in our hands as photographers) camera. 
  • Memories   —  Rolleiflex,  Minox,  Contax-Yashica,  Minolta,  Konica,  Mamiya,  and Bronica,  enter the dragon China.
  • Chinese decide to step-in to save an ailing Japanese camera company; HASSELBLAD of Sweden which is now HASSEL REALLY BAD of China.   
  • Like US hedge fund saving LEICA a company that has nine lives? Or are they just Zombies?
  • Digital Computing And Digital Image Combined Is The Winner  —  Retrospectively, the smartphone combines the PC and camera. It's what the general public wanted and, perhaps more than ever, the ability to share photos is possibly the most important feature. 
  • As a result phone cameras, and their software, see heavy investment and rapid iteration.  Progress is steep. With the likes of multi-billion dollar IT conglomerates such as Apple and Google snapping at their heels.  It's a one sided war.


BREAKING NEWS

Update On Fuji  —  Fujifilm Holdings Corp.’s tough decision to accept the demise of its film and digital photography businesses and embrace the health care and semiconductor sectors was validated last year during the pandemic, the company’s new chief executive officer said.

“Health care and semiconductor materials will be our future earnings drivers,” Teiichi Goto, who took the top post at Fujifilm last month, said in an interview Wednesday.

Over the past decade, Fujifilm parlayed its expertise in film and chemicals to move into medical diagnostics, pharmaceutical manufacturing and supplying materials to chipmakers. While almost half of Fujifilm’s 2.2 trillion yen ($20 billion) in sales in the latest fiscal year through March came from those two segments, they generate about two-thirds of the Tokyo-based company’s operating income.

“We’ve pivoted decisively toward health care,” said Goto, whose first job at the company was selling color film, in 1983. “And apart from health care, the materials business for semiconductors is very interesting.”

With more people spending time at home, demand for everything from smartphones and tablets, to computers and gaming consoles, has soared, fueling unprecedented demand for chips and triggering shortages in other sectors, such as the global auto industry. At the same time, the pandemic has fueled a greater need for pharmaceutical compounds and more investment in medical-sector devices and equipment.

Both trends are now lifting Fujifilm, which has committed 1.24 trillion yen to invest in equipment, facilities and research and development over the next three years, with the majority of that earmarked for the health care and material segments. Goto most recently ran the company’s medical systems business.

While some of the growth of the health care business came from mergers and acquisitions, the same strategy probably won’t be applied to the chipmaking materials, according to the CEO. “For semiconductor materials, my thinking is that we need to go deeper than M&A and invest in research and development,” he said, adding that he would still pursue deals and has several in mind if the timing is right.

A bigger part of the company’s efforts will be devoted to expanding sales of semiconductor materials, which is part of the high-function materials segment that made up about a 10th of revenue last year. Demand for chip materials will increase thanks to the growth of 5G and autonomous driving, Goto said.

Fujifilm’s health care business primarily consists of medical diagnostics equipment and contract development and manufacturing of drugs for pharmaceutical companies. That paid off during the pandemic, as it geared up to produce reagents for PCR tests, sell rapid test kits and manufacture Covid-19 vaccines. Its novel flu drug Avigan also unexpectedly emerged as a recommended Covid treatment in Japan.

The pivot into health care and materials, led by Goto’s predecessor Shigetaka Komori, was controversial at the time. Now, he’s being widely credited and lauded for keeping the company afloat and avoiding the fate that befell former rival Eastman Kodak Co., which declared bankruptcy a decade ago. Fujifilm’s shares are up about 50% this year, following a 4% rise in 2020.

Asked whether there was any chance that Fujifilm would change its name, given its evolution, Goto ruled it out.

“Film isn’t just about photos,” Goto said. “There’s polarizer film for displays, medical dry film, antibacterial film. Ours is a logo that sticks all that together.”


PART TWO  —  THE BLACK BOX 

06/04/2021   aljacobsladder.com