Trees everywhere

The purpose of this blog is to conduct various interviews which will be recorded according to photo elicitation that deals with the ideas of Dean who looks at the relationships between people and trees and how these trees depict how people experience the world. The analysis of trees in this blog will be according to the four narratives as outlined by Dean in:  The unruly tree: stories from the archives, in Urban forests, trees, and green space: a political ecology perspective.

Interviews often present a challenge, to which photographs seem to be an adequate solution to put people at ease and to promote thought processes. The technique of including photographs in interviews is called Photo Elicitation (Tinkler 2013). According to Tinkler this specific way of going about interviewing encourages dialogue and prompts discussion (2013). Photographs allow the communication between the interviewer and the interviewee to be opened up and allows for easier interaction between the two (Tinkler 2013). Visuals also often evoke feelings and memories in people that might otherwise not have been brought up or recognised (Tinkler 2013). The photographs included in my blog deals with personal and emotional experiences regarding trees. The photographs were then used a second time in an interview so that the interviewees could be inspired to interpret and supply their own stories according to each category outlined by Dean.

Narrative of service:


As a child, we had this beautiful big tree in our backyard in which I always used to play. I always begged my father to build me a tree house in that tree and my dreams finally came true one day when my dad called me outside to reveal the construction which he had made. The ‘tree house’ was not a work of art, but to me it was the most beautiful place that existed. Whenever I would climb into my tree and sit in my tree house staring at birds and looking out over the garden I would feel at piece. The service narrative deals with the idea that trees can provide us with a service (Dean 2015:163). This tree provided me with hours of pleasure and served the purpose of carrying my beautiful tree house for many years until the tree and I outgrew it.

Lizelle: When my mother looked at the photograph she immediately lightened up when remembering how she helped my father build the tree house for me. My mother also commented on the fact that trees are continuously serving us by providing us with oxygen and removing carbon dioxide which we exhale. She also mentioned that trees help not only us humans, but also the surrounding environment and animals by providing shelter and food sources. My mother also stated that by having many trees in the environment we are encouraging animals to stay and to not be frightened away.

Granny: What stood out for my granny was the fact that trees provide a lovely service by supplying us with beautiful fruits. According to my granny, South Africa produces some of the most mouth-watering fruits in the whole world. She mentioned that the trees in our country are so sturdy that the fruits which they produce are of a better quality than all of the fruits found throughout the world. My granny also recalled her visit to Paris once when she was younger and mentioned that their fruits tasted exceptionally bad compared to ours.

Tumi: Tumi grew up in an informal settlement in a small community in Bronkhorstspruit where trees formed a big part of her life. She recalled that as a child she had few toys, and that she would always take the tree branches and knot them together to make dolls for herself and her sisters. She also told stories about how they would get extremely cold in the winters, and that by burning the tree branches they would make it through the long cold nights with the warmth of the fire.

Narrative of Power:


We recently moved from Orchards to Pretoria North. When we went ‘house hunting’ some areas stood out much more than others. We never noticed it at first, but now when looking back on our decision we were always drawn to the areas which had the most trees and nature. We are currently living in a beautiful area which is abundantly green with tall trees that had obviously been here for quite some time. The power narrative deals with trees that indicate power, wealth, or aesthetics (Dean 2015:164).  Many people, just like us, are drawn to areas filled with trees. It gives a sense of stature and power, but is also inviting and familiar.

 Lizelle: After listening to my story my mother mentioned that different areas tell different stories through its trees. She stated that many people living in poverty are reluctant to spend any money on keeping their area nice and pristine, whereas wealthy people have money to spend on gardening services to keep their area in a good condition. Wealthier people are also more concerned with their personal image which they send out to the world whereas poorer individuals rarely care about their environment and rather use the little money which they receive to fulfill their basic needs.

GrannyMy grandmother recalled her mother always telling her stories about how she should one day marry the boy in the next street who lives in the house with the big trees. My grandmother said that she never understood why her mother used to say that, and that it was only until later that she realized her mother meant she should marry the boy because he was wealthy, judging from the beautiful big trees that surrounded their home. My grandmother said that her mother firmly believed that streets lined with large trees indicated wealth and class.

 Tumi: After viewing the photo she told me that she has been working as a waitress for almost a year now, and that she recently started working at this lovely tea garden, Capital Park, which has a variety of spectacular plants and big trees. She talked about how all the people who come to the tea garden always look so neat and wealthy compared to the Spur where she previously worked which was, according to her, not pretty and did not have a single tree in sight. She stated that wealthier people rather go to immaculate places, such as the tea garden, which is beautiful to look at, rather than ordinary restaurants built in noisy dull areas.

Narrative of Heritage: 


My father grew up in Musina which is known for its colossal Baobab trees that stretch many meters wide. My father frequently tells stories about how beautiful the trees of Musina are and how he and his brother always used to play in the big Baobab trees on their farm. I always carried my father’s stories with me and after a while it became my own, along with its heritage. Last year my father finally took me and my mother to visit the old farm where they used to live, and without ever have seeing the land or the trees, I felt right at home. The heritage narrative deals with identity, and trees that are significant to a small community etc (Dean 2015:165). Through my father the trees make up a part of who I am. Wherever I go, I carry the wonderful stories which my father always told about the big trees of Musina.

.Lizelle: When thinking of the heritage of trees, my mother immediately mentioned the Jacaranda trees which bloom every year in October. My mother sees these trees as being unique, and makes up a part of her pride and identity as a Pretorian resident. Whenever the Jacarandas are in bloom my mother always exclusively chooses to drive only in the streets which are abundant with the brilliant purple trees (even if it means that it will take longer for her to reach her destination).

Granny Susan: My granny thinks of the Kapok tree to be significant to her heritage. She told me about how she lived in a house in Pietersburg which was surrounded by a few Kapok trees and how she would always sit for hours and watch the birds collect the fuzzy white kapok which fell from the tree to build their nests. My granny also remembers the fond memories when they went to have picnic under the kapok trees, and how her children were always fascinated by the spiky green thorns which the tree had.

 Tumi: After sharing my narrative with her, she told me about the big Willow tree that used to be located outside her primary school. She told me that there were many rumors that the tree was magical and that if you stood under the tree and made a wish that it might come true if the tree decided it wanted to grant you the wish. She said that she remembered many afternoons after school when she and her friends used to play hide and seek around the tree while waiting for the taxi. She also mentioned that it was a special tree because it was under that tree that she got given her first kiss.

Narrative of the Unruly Tree:


Every morning I drive past hundreds of trees which are many times intertwined with power cables and municipal lines. Ironically we think that the trees are invading our space and messing with our wires, when it is actually we who are invading the trees space by cutting down its branches to make space for lines. The trees however constantly keep fighting back by always consuming the telephone wires and covering the street lights. According to Dean the unruly tree looks at the counter narrative (2015:167). Even though the municipality cuts down these trees branches, they keep coming back year after year claiming the space which rightfully belongs to them.

 Lizelle: When telling my mother about the unruly tree narrative, she mentioned the Mulberry tree in our backyard which always keeps making a mess when the berries start falling off. She is fond of the appearance of the tree, but does not like it when the tree sheds the berries all over the patio and in the swimming pool. She also complains when me and my father step in the mulberries causing the whole house to be full of reddish-purple juice afterwards. My mother mentioned that the birds are also fond of eating the berries, which leads to purple bird poop all over the patio and on the cars.

 Granny:  My granny especially liked talking about the unruly tree in her backyard and how her cat, Sir Fluff, always rolls under the tree. The tree sheds little spiky leafs which get caught in her cat’s long white fur coat. This causes a lot of drama in the household when the cat has to be caught and brushed in order to get the little leafs out of his hair to prevent knots, but as soon as Sir Fluff is nicely brushed and clean he goes and rolls under the tree again. By doing this he always makes sure my granny is fully occupied.

Tumi: When interviewing Tumi she talked about the thorn tree at the tea garden, where she works as a waitress, to be an unruly tree. She talked about how the thorns of the tree has many times pierced through her shoes, puncturing her feet. She said that the management had considered removing the tree, but that it would be too costly and that it would leave an ugly, empty space if it were to be removed. She said that she had to go buy new shoes with thick soles to wear when she goes to work there.

Using photographs when interviewing people helps them to visualize what you are asking them to talk about. When looking at my photographs and hearing the accompanying stories all my interviewee’s faces would light up with thoughts and memories of their own. This proves the importance and effectiveness of photo elicitation. The images made allowance for everybody to effectively and successfully provide interesting stories that would otherwise have been hard to come by if I did not have the photographs as reference for my interviewees.


Sources Consulted

Dean, J. 2015. The unruly tree: stories from the archives, in Urban forests, trees, and greenspace: a political ecology perspective, edited by LA Sandberg, A Bardekjian & S Butt. New York: Routledge:162-175.

Tinkler, P. 2013. Using photographs in social and historical research. London: SAGE.



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