The following excerpt is from the Google Hangout between Silvia Soler Gallego from Kaleidoscope and Melanie Chua on 6 January 2015. This conversation looked at audio transcription as a mode for access to visual culture and is part of the Artist-Writer Pair Series. Read more in BrackMag.
MC: How do you “do” audio description at Kaleidoscope?
SSG: We translate the image to the Spanish language. In such inter-semantic translations, also called audio description, we translate the visual into a language. If you think of any descriptive text in a novel, that is quite similar to what we do. Because we address visuals to visually impaired people, there are guidelines to take into account to allow them to understand a work in the best possible experience we can give.
(We needed) an ability to organise the information in a way that allows the receiver to build an image step by step. When you see something, it is obvious and it is a whole, but you have to translate all that into small pieces (to a person with visual impairment). You have to think of the person you are translating to. That’s the main difference with other types of translations.
One of the most important things is to understand that vision is synthesis while audio is analytic. We need an ability to organise the information in a way that allows the receiver to build an image step by step. We need to give the receiver enough time to assimilate the words and their linguistic meaning. So this also builds a mental image, with sensations and with memories. When you see something, it is obvious and it is a whole, but you have to translate all that into small pieces. You have to think of the person you are translating to. That’s the main difference with other types of translations.
There are two types of audio descriptions. One is the audio guide, which is pre-recorded. The second are audio descriptions done via guided tours. We also ask them to tell us, how they are accessing the image. To review how we are doing. That all is difficult because it depends on their age and their experience. But it’s been very positive and they’ve been very grateful.
MC: How do you convey art when you yourselves are not artists? Is this an issue you find you have to tackle?
SSG: We face this issue every day. We were very aware that we are not artists, historians, nor writers. But the background of a audio describer is varied and changes depending on where we are; audio describers could be art historians, or they could have non-art backgrounds in communications. So people do ask us, how do we do what we do?
To answer that, what we do is what any translator does, and they are not necessarily art historians or art writers. What we do is research into a specific area and become experts into that subject, and all that helps us become ready and able to do the description. Of course, being versed in art and its own language can help us make better “structure” and better audio descriptions. We like to say the ideal situation is if audio describers are part art historian, part writer, but we try our best.