re-blogged: On Translators and Photographers

Great insight from kjd at Love German Books

On Translators and Photographers

One of the difficult things about being a translator is that you essentially work alone. So get-togethers like the VDÜ’s annual Wolfenbüttel knees-up are especially rewarding, as we have a rare chance for a good gossip.

This year I talked to the translator and writer Ebba Drolshagen, who was attending in her capacity as a photographer – the third string to her bow. She was telling me how photographers are supposed to be invisible, especially when shooting reportage pictures. There’s a tacit agreement that we ignore the photographer, don’t look at the camera when we’re being photographed and pretend to be getting on with whatever we’re doing. But in actual fact, the photographer has a huge influence over the picture, choosing the subject matter, the angle, how to frame the shot. So the end product very much bears the photographer’s signature, even though we may not acknowledge it.

Translators, we decided, are not dissimilar. That old adage about how a translation should be unobtrusive, true to the original and beautiful still holds. Readers don’t want to be reminded of the translator’s role in the finished book, we’re told. Translators too are expected to remain invisible, standing behind the camera, as it were, while they choose the words, copy the tone and capture the mood. No two translations are the same, just as two photographers would always reproduce the same scene differently. Neither the photographer nor the translator are neutral, always interpreting and recreating through their own gaze.

So here’s to the creativity of photography and translation, two wonderful and underappreciated arts that make life richer for everyone.


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