A picture has power. According to Tinkler in Using photographs in social and historical research (2013) using a photograph in an interview opens up a new level of honesty between interviewer and interviewee as the photograph acts as an icebreaker of sorts. A photograph can elicit emotion and a greater personal connection that just verbal words due to the visual impact of a photograph. Photographs can promote conversation and communication and awakens more personal emotions, memories and feelings that accompany the information or data (Tinkler 2013).
The Tree in a Narrative of: Service
This tree’s purpose for existing was to be a place my cat could climb in when he grew older, it was a way we could create a save little adventure land for him without having to put a cat ‘jungle gym’ in our house, he always thought we’d have this massive beautiful leopard tree by the time our cat was old enough to climb in and get down by himself but the tree seemed dwarfed for years never reaching beyond a meter tall with small spindally branches never strong enough to hold a kitten yet along a fully grown cat. Now, 11 years later the tree has finally started to grow though still small this beautiful tree acts as an aesthetic addition to our garden.
A Tree in the narrative of: Power
This is an example of how trees can impact the way we see the urban world. Trees provide a certain aesthetic that comes with class. Suburban areas with trees look more inviting, safer, friendlier when there are trees around compared to when there are few trees.
A tree in the narrative of: Folklore
The tree of life is the connection between heaven, this plane and the underworld. It appears in many religions. In Christianity it represents humanity in a form of freedom from the original sin.
The Tree in a narrative of: Unruliness
This tree was my favorite in the garden, It was planted when we first moved it, it was small and twig like. As the years went by its thin little truck grew and soon the tree was as tall as out two story house. It was beautiful, I would grab a blanket and read under the shade it provided. Then, when our new neighbours arrived they complained. “The tree touches our walls….the tree’s roots are disrupting our walls.” Its true the tree’s roots were digging under their house and causing cracks in the walls, we had no idea it would get so big when we bought it. As a result, my dad decided to hire someone to axe the tree literally and so the tree was cut, destroyed. But as you can see in the picture this tree won’t give up and has started to grow again in another ten years it will be right were it left off.
The photo elicitation
Sheritha Mathura’s (my mother) Tree Narratives
When she was growing up, there was a mango tree that grew outside her house. The tree offered her solace. It provided her and the rest of her family with shade and food (mangoes) which were the closest to desserts she and her siblings would get as they were a poor family. The tree offered my mother with entertainment as the clambered about in its branches, she would also climb the tree and study in it while the sun was out as inside the house was too loud.
She had a bonsai tree when I was younger, the bonsai tree needed to be trimmed regularly in order to keep its shape, it was a symbol of status.
Bamboo trees grow all over Durban where she is from. The bamboo tree is sacred in Hindu culture. During times of prayers, the bamboo trees are cut and used in ‘cleansing ceremonies’ the bamboo is also used as a pole, Hindus tie their ceremony flags to the poles and place them outside their houses as a form of spiritual protection. It is believed that spirits even live in the bamboo.
When we moved into our new house, we bought two dwarfed, lollipop Jasmine trees for the front of our lawn. The idea behind them was that they would not grow very tall and they would also grow slowly so that we could trim them every month to retain that ‘lollipop’ shape. However these two trees defied their purpose and did not remain small and tidy instead they grew untidy and unruly and were wild. Eventually my dad gave up trying to prune them and now they almost reach the roof in their height. Dwarf, lollipop trees…sure, ok.
Jessica Wohlfarth (The best friend)
There was a tree on her highschool campus that acted as the subject of their ‘science’ experiment. They named the tree ‘Slut’ the reason for this was, they wanted to see if emotional abuse would affect the tree’s growth so they called it names and insulted it on a daily basis. This did not hinder its growth and provided them with shade in the summers.
She remembers a tree at her friend Sam’s house that provided her with the ultimate superiority over her sister and Sam. This large tree in Sam’s yard was the object of a game they would play involving who could climb the highest. Jessica always won. The tree literally elevated her and gave her status .
Her neighbours large tree hung over their wall. The tree would drop these seeds that were poisonous to her dogs, it also began to uproot their wall. Eventually they asked the neighbours to cut the tree branches for the safety of their dogs but the neighbours cut the whole tree down instead.
Using my 4 images to engage with people enabled them to understand the idea of a ‘tree narrative’ better than if I’d explained it to them verbally (which I did to see if they would get it, but they didn’t until I showed them the photo as a means of visual explanation).
Tinkler, P. 2013. Using photographs in social and historical research. London: SAGE.