We Need New Names

by NoViolet Bulawayo

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What is the cultural impact of photography in We Need New Names?

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Photography is represented as an aspect of imperialism. The camera is a potent symbol of differences between wealthy foreigners and poor Zimbabweans, especially the children. It symbolizes the vast gulf of wealth and privilege between them but also the charity and paternalism of the foreign good intentions. The author emphasizes “taking pictures” as “taking” in general and contrasts it to “giving.”

In one incident, while the children are foraging for food in the streets, a thin English woman opens her door and begins to ask them questions. She is eating a pastry while speaking with them, and throws part of it away. She wears a Save Darfur T-shirt and has a camera around her neck. She asks permission to photograph them and then starts telling them how to pose. Most of them comply, but Stina walks away and the others follow, yelling insults at the woman.

At another time, foreign aid workers—the “NGO people—arrive, and one man begins taking photographs without asking permission. He has a big camera. The narrator says that the children are embarrassed by their old, dirty clothes and prefer not to be photographed, but they are inhibited from saying this because they will also be rewarded.

[T]hey just take the pictures anyway, take and take. We don't complain because we know that after the picture-taking comes the giving of gifts.

One girl, Chipo, is pregnant, and the photographer centers on her, apparently shocked by her extreme youth. “It’s like she has become Paris Hilton, it’s all click-flash-flash-click.”

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