Friday, October 1, 2010

The Social Document

One of my latest translations was of a book entitled Mineral de La Luz: The Photography of John Horgan Jr. in Mexico, recently published by Ediciones La Rana, in Guanajuato.
John Horgan’s work, though it is not limited to this recorded document, shares a few characteristics with photojournalism—the social document—owing to the context in which these photos were taken. The early twentieth century was the era of industrialization and the opening of markets, which also implies an aperture of the world to itself, that is, the desire to know from the inside the interior of an unknown exterior. Horgan solidified his career upon publishing his work in newspapers and magazines, including the internationally renowned National Geographic. This is an example of Horgan’s pre-eminence, but above all, of the acceleration of communication: the transmission and reception of reported events occurring in specific and seemingly distant points across countries.

The repercussions of introducing photographic images in media were imminent: a phenomenon of democratization. The first photograph ever to appear in a newspaper was published in an American daily in 1880, marking an important moment in the history of the perception of reality, since to speak of mass media is to speak of the vision of the masses. For the first time, the people themselves, individually or collectively, were captured on film—as subjects or as a people who shared a time, a place and a labor. The question in the face of this phenomenon is for the one who reflects on these reflections and for the one who subsequently reflects on these photographic documents. The answers to the latter question are as infinite as the number of perspectives of those who, over the years, have reflected on these images. Considered a portrait of reality, they are consequently viewed as a portrayal of truth.

Pardo Hernández, Berenice and Oscar Sánchez Rangel. Mineral de La Luz: The Photography of John Horgan Jr. in Mexico. Trans. Paige Mitchell. Guanajuato, Mexico: Ediciones La Rana, 2010.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Luego, luego

This expression in Mexican Spanish took me a while to understand. You would generally hear this phrase when someone is giving directions.

Take the following example:

To get to the market from Plaza de La Paz, take Calle Juárez, in the opposite direction of Teatro Juárez, follow this winding street, pass the Jardín de la Reforma, and "luego, luego," you will bump into the market.

These are directions from the city's center to El Mercado Hidalgo, in Guanajuato.

"Luego" means "later" in Spanish, like Hasta luego, or "See you later." Then what does "luego, luego" mean, "later, later"? My first assumption was that it meant "far away," which doesn't really make sense because if you are giving directions, the norm is to refer to places within the vicinity.

Is it obvious now what this expression means? I had to chuckle when I figured it out. It means "immediately," or I guess "immediately after" whatever is being described.

In my eyes, this is virtually the opposite of the sense of the individual words. And in English, if we repeat a word, doesn't that mean we wish to create emphasis? (It was a big, BIG bash.)

I recently stumbled upon another expression that made me giggle: siempre no. Siempre means "always": siempre voy al mismo café (I always go to the same café). No, is obviously "no." So literally, siempre no is "always no."

Wrong. Plus, that doesn't really mean anything in English, unless, of course, you add a subject and a verb, like "She always says no." But this isn't the case here.

I asked a friend if he had landed a project he had been striving to get, and his answer was, "siempre no." Hmmmm... Is he implying he "never" gets the projects he works toward? That couldn't be it; he is a fairly successful, positive and motivated person.

My translation, once I figured out the puzzle, was: "In the end, I didn't get it" or "In the end, it didn't work out"—far from the literal "always no" solution.

These are a few examples of expressions that don't add up to the individual components. At the moment, nothing comes to mind which would serve as an equivalent in English—except the use of sarcasm. I feel that the English language is imbued with sarcasm; I am referring to the use of language in such a way to imply the opposite.

Some examples:

Thanks for coming out
Thanks a lot

Commonly used in English, these expressions said in a certain tone, mean the opposite. Let's just take the final example. If someone were to accidentally spill a drink on you, your shirt now stained, your immediate reaction could be to say, "Thanks a lot!" Perhaps a nice way to get the annoyance across without using foul language is a possible explanation.

I leave it to the reader's imagination to figure out what this phrase really means...