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Photographers and Translators

Updated on June 1, 2012

Photographers have the same relationship to painters as translators have to writers. This, I think, is true. I belong to the sad group of people who have had a lot to do with translators in the past, and unfortunately still do on some occasions. Perhaps in the future sometime I will write down my experiences with this strange breed of person, even though I fear that no one will be willing to translate it.

Let me be short and to the point: all translators, with very few exceptions, feel that they are creative geniuses who give otherwise worthless, cheap, tacky, unimaginative and boring books a perfection and artistic grandeur that the original author was incapable of. The translator feels that he has given the work a clarity that the original author was only capable of vaguely outlining.

An acquaintance of mine wrote a novel last Spring. Three translators were interested in translating it into various languages. My acquaintance gave them all permission and the translators went to work. A year went by. One of the translators finished and the novel was published in his language. The second translator gave back the novel and said that after further consideration the subject matter did not move him (as a certain part does not move and actor perhaps). The third translator seemed to have disappeared.

In the meantime the author had written another novel, and after a year had gone by from the start of the translation works, he contacted the third translator to ask how he was coming along with the novel? He got a very angry response saying that he (the translator) had to "live the text" - (literally)- before he could get into translating, and that is hard work. The author responded that in the meantime he had written a new novel and had already forgotten about the old one and that he thinks that one whole year should have been plenty of time to "live the text" of a mere 300 page novel. This obviously hurt the translator's feelings, as the author has not heard from him since.

I dislike using psychoanalytical phrases in articles for laymen, but in the case of photographers and translators I will hazard the term touchienisis extremis. People do not become photographers or translators for no reason whatsoever. Once they do make this decision, nothing stops them from feeling more of a writer than an author, and more of an artist than a painter.

There are people who write and paint according to their ability, or in the long ago past when photographers simply photoed their subjects without pretension. Photographers only started to fancy themselves poets after the golden age of poetry disappeared and poets were no longer respected as they were in the past. There are people who take photos as poems. I enjoy these photos very much, but it is with regret that I think about why they are doing it. They would rather be writing those poems than photographing them! Just as translators would rather have me be translating their novels than vice versa. This is understandable. I sometimes envy translators, however, as they undoubtedly chose the more comfortable option.


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