Photograph by Robin Hammond
Photograph by Robin Hammond

The Moment: Zimbabwe

This story appears in the May 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Caught in Zimbabwe To document human rights abuses, photojournalist Robin Hammond first went to Zimbabwe in 2007. After several visits and two arrests for taking photos in unauthorized places, he spent 26 nights in prison and was deported last year. Hammond was particularly struck by Mbare, an impoverished suburb of the capital. In an outdoor stairwell he spotted a boy getting his hair cut and looking at his reflection in a piece of a broken mirror hung against bars—a metaphor for a broken country unable to see the world beyond itself. —Daniel Stone

Behind the Lens

Q: Why did you want to tell Zimbabwe’s story?

A: This is a country that once fought for Robert Mugabe’s promise of a free Africa. Instead of getting freedom, its people have been oppressed by a dictator. The idea of my project was to document the lives of people on the front lines of Mugabe’s efforts to stay in power. It was important for me to show how their lives continue, even with the intimidation and political volatility.

Q: How did you report while staying covert?

A: I became accustomed to 4 a.m. starts, when there would be fewer people and thugs around who might interfere with my work. Once news got out that a white man with a camera had been seen, the security agents would come looking for me.

Q: How did you persuade people to let you photograph them?

A: I promised I wouldn’t use their last names or be specific about where I met them. Some people declined out of fear, but many more welcomed me. It seemed easier to talk to people who had been victims of Mugabe’s party because I am white. They knew I couldn’t be a secret agent.