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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: On intimacy in translation and photography

Nina and her Abhoji’s Hands
Anne Magnan-Park
Nina and her Abhoji’s Hands

My creative expressions of choice for a few years now have been literary translation and photography. While these two artistic practices may not appear to have much in common, in my mind, they are joined at the hip as deliberate strangers to the author’s blank page and the artist’s empty canvas. Indeed, unlike other forms of creative writing and arts which often partake in the myth of absolute originality, both translation and photography trumpet their unoriginal beginnings and derivative finales. They ostensibly emerge from and insist on remaining an integral part of the source of their attention. To phrase things more concretely, the already fully written pages of an original text are translation’s jumping-off point and place of landing, while the pre-existing places and humans of the whole wide world in light and dark are photography’s sole elemental canvas. In that respect, translation and photography embrace unoriginality as essential to their creative labor. They begin and end by pointing to the source of their attention and, to a lesser extent, to its transformation. In so doing, they center on creativity as an expression of intimacy with a source page, place, or person. As a translator and photographer, all I know to do and all I want to do is embrace these expressions of intimacy with my own toolset through a lens of curiosity, momentary stillness, and an eye for the chiaroscuro of attunement and insight.

Although, in all honesty, it was not always like this. “Blank-page” creative expressions, such as poetry, and short-story writing in my first language, French, were my main ecstatic spaces from a very young age. And then, I immigrated. Multiple times. The making of poetry and prose became the translating of poetry and prose. This puzzled my family as well as my friends in Provence, who enquired: “Are you not writing anymore? Why give away the power of your voice to someone else’s creative project?” I replied: “Giving is a creative act, is it not? So why not create in the flagrant space of highly attentive and receptive giving that is translation?” Still, I understood what they meant. For them – and for many – the creative practice of translation is a generous, but suspicious exercise in self-effacement. Not a giving, but a giving up. Understandably, my siblings and friends were concerned that immigration had caused me to occupy less space (including on the page), or to occupy space exclusively when it was visibly shared. They interpreted my new initials as a first-generation immigrant and married woman, AMP, as a manifestation of the recent maladaptive leanings of my creative skills: I was now amplifying other people’s voices outside of their cultural spheres of origin instead of honing my own. And… oui, they were right in a way. Who is not humbled by immigration? By life itself?

But the truth is, what they consider the perplexingly tight, and compromised space of creative expression in translation is, to me, one of the most spacious and essential of all. The same goes for photography. Creativity in translation and photography primarily rises from a dexterity with one’s skills, as well as a heightened form of intimacy with the content of their source material. Intimacy in this context is not only a closeness, an insightful knowing, an attunement, and a sense of respect. It is also the artist’s willingness to be moved by what they sense and their ability to let this attuned intuition emerge without compromising the integrity of what they see. It’s not a giving nor a giving up. It’s a being-with. What differentiates translation and photography from other art forms, and one of the reasons why they have my heart, lies in that the expression of this intimacy, as a creative outcome, is the focus of the translated page and photograph. There is no need for more. Here, the artists resolve to linger in the process of being touched and touching back without feeling the urge to exit the very spaces of resonance that drew them close in the first place. This intimacy, this intense focus on the source and transformative process of being moved, is not only a way of showing up at the creative table, it is a way of being. The intended outcome here is not to birth a signature style, let alone to claim a body of work, but simply to share a creative circle within the layered event of a being-with.

For Michiana Chronicles this is Anne Magnan-Park. To the inimitable Jean Magnan who would be 84 today. The light and dark of your layered silences are the source of my immersive lingerings. Be well.

Music: Pablo Neruda’s “Siempre”

Anne is a literary translator focusing on Indigenous literatures of the Pacific. She has been writing for Michiana Chronicles since 2019.