A few weeks ago, a photographer whose book I translated over a year ago via a publisher contacted me about a “twin book”. As he introduced himself, he said “You translated the texts for my book and I really did like your work”. Such feedback shows that the person appreciates that translation is not just about accuracy and fundamental good writing skills (these should be a given); indeed, it is also about the style and rendering of ideas. This is especially true with art texts.
Just like several photographers facing the same view will each take different photos, several linguists will translate a given text differently: same story, different words. We have to make choices, some words – and certainly idiomatic expressions – do not have a direct equivalent in the other language, and the author of the source text (original) may use words creatively, coin a fancy word, make a pun or a subtle joke (and this photographer’s first book had been full of humour). This is when translators need to be comfortable with making such choices and be creative themselves. Those who are not may prefer the matter-of-fact style of technical, legal or medical texts, for instance. As an art translator, I deal with subjectivity and interpretation on a daily basis and I relish those challenges.
For his second book, it made sense that the photographer commissioned the same translator. For me, it also means that I am already familiar with the spirit and atmosphere of his work, which in turn helps me to ensure that the writing style is consistent across both books so the twin books look and read harmoniously.