This blog conducts a Photo elicitation with three different people based on the four narratives of trees by Dean (2015:173). According to Tinkler (2013) a Photo elicitation can also be called a Photo interview and aims to discuss a photograph and tell people the story about a photograph and waiting for their own stories. In this way there is active story sharing.  Tinkler ( 2013:173-174) mentions that photo materials are a tool for research on a social and historical level and that it is deliberately used in interviews to : …”prompt discussion,reflection and recollection”. Tinkler (2013 : 174) has found that photographs serve to encourage people to talk and can also be used to make them comfortable in the interview. Tinkler (2013) states that photographs facilitate dialogue. He also mentions that not all photographs  get people talking and there might be silent moments and that the person might have little to say (Tinkler 2013 :176)

” A man does not plant a tree for himself. He plants it for prosperity”- Alexander Smith

This quote states that when someone plants a tree it is not only for themselves, but for future generations. This makes a tree so special, it comes from the past, grows in the present and stands tall in the future.It is a tree of life. It serves ,protects and shows history ,antiquity and strength. This is a blog sharing stories about trees based on the four narratives according to Dean’s article called The unruly tree (2015). The four narratives are:

  1. The narrative of service
  2. The narrative of power
  3. The narrative of heritage
  4. Counter narratives

First I will share my own personal stories based on the four narratives, and then I will conduct a Photo interview with three people by showing them the photographs I used to accompany my personal stories.

The Personal Tree Stories

  1. The narrative of service.

Trees are the proud service providers of shade and protects your skin from tanning tomato red. They help us cool down and calm down. They provide a place to rest. According to Dean (2015:162) trees are: ” selflessly providing services to the human residents of the modern city…[and the] most valued environmental benefit provided in the nineteenth century was shade”.

blog 8

(Photograph by author)

When I was a little kid the garden was my playground and my fantasy world. I used to set up a picnic with my teddybears and dolls under a really big tree in front of the house. It provided a massive shaded area and I played under that tree until the sun went down and dinner was ready. I laid down underneath the tree with my teddies and dolls and looked through the tree branches, studying every little detail: the shapes, the sun rays , the transparency of the leaves. I imagined a fairy world. This tree was my playground. It provided me with loads of fun. Me and my siblings climbed that tree and had competitions on who can climb the highest. I lost and wanted to practice for the next competition, so the following day I climbed the tree by myself. I climbed and I climbed with determination and confidence until I looked down… that’s where my fear of heights originated. I had to stay up there until my mom could hear me, so that she can get me out of the tree. I spent about an hour in the tree crying moaning and screaming for someone to come and help me down.

2.Narrative of power

According to Dean (2015:163) landscape historians have observed that “long lines of identical trees, alike in age and in type, speak of the human control of nature, and of a grace born of power”.  This lines of identical trees resembles beauty controlled by humans. These lines of trees can usually be seen in public places and on streets. Dean (2015:164) states that identical trees are planted in this way in order to bring the illusion  of balance and harmony . According to Dean (2015:164) landscape historians explored the beauty of these ranks of trees, and show how these trees spoke of wealth and power in the built environment.

blog 16

(Photograph by author)

This is a photograph of the beautiful organised lines of identical trees generally known as Fever trees or Sulphur Barks on the University of Pretoria Hatfield campus. This symbolises the power of humans to control nature, by planting it geometrically and evenly spaced to create an aesthetic view. They bring calmness in a stress-zone and whenever I am stressed I look up at the tall trees and breathe their fresh air. Their tallness also shows power and strength. They are identical and have the same age and this creates unity.

3. Narrative of heritage


According to Dean (2015:164) Paul Aird’s definition of a heritage tree is one that is notable because of its characteristics . These characteristics includes size, form, shape, beauty, age, colour, rarity, genetic constitution, or other distinctive features. It can also be a well known community landmark. The tree can be associated with a historic person, place, event or period. It can be a representative of a crop grown by ancestors. It can also be a tree associated with local folklore, myths, legends, or traditions (Aird 2005).


(Photo by Onroute magazine)

I remember the day that my parents took us to see the Sunland ‘Big Baobab’ in Modjadjiskloof in Limpopo Province. We went as day visitors and I was amazed by this big tree.It is the widest of it’s sort in the world and over 1700 years old (Onroute 2012). It was hollow on the inside and it was my first time in a bar. This tree made me feel proud because my country has something that others don’t have and it is possibly the largest one in the world.This makes it a historical landmark and a popular tourist attraction. It has a 47 metre circumference and a bar inside of the tree that serves customers with a cold beer.

4. Counter narrative

These trees are the troublemakers and the rebels. According to Dean (2015: 166) these trees can be classified as the ones who make a mess, that refuses to stay in line like they were originally planted..”trees that grows too fast and in the wrong way  and service trees that emit allergenic pollen”. Trees can be dangerous too, so watch out!

blog 22


(Photographs by author)

Meet the campus rebel. This tree decided stuff the humans I am going to grow on my own way and in my own direction. Unfortunately it was caught out and now it has to live on a leash in order to grow back in the right direction…fortunately it did not receive a death penalty. This unique tree is currently being assisted to grow upright with cables because it is a potentially dangerous tree that can fall and create numerous problems. This tree is also situated on the University of Pretoria Hatfield campus.

I then interviewed three other people and showed them the pictures and told them the stories behind it. They were kind enough to share their stories with me.


My Mother: Elmarie le Roux

  1. The narrative of service


“We lived in Silverton and we had an enormous yard. My loving father built me a doll house under a very big willow tree. The slender branches made it look like it is cut out of a fairytale book. The doll house was built inside the strands of branches  so one had to enter the branches first and then one could see the hidden doll house. This was my happy place and where I hid from a hiding. In the evenings I would lit a candle and go on an adventure to the willow tree with candles it looked even prettier. The tree was also my playground and it provided me with great amounts of fresh air and shade.”

2. The narrative of power

Blog 7

(Photograph by author)

“I love to go to parks like the botanical gardens and to visit the nursery. It also shows a sense of human control because humans breed these plants and trees and has the power to  plant it in a specific way in order to look pretty. It also makes money out of other people who desires to plant a specific tree.”

3.Narrative of heritage


” This is a hard one. When I think of the idea of Heritage Jacaranda trees pop into my head. I also studied at Tuks and the Jacaranda trees formed part of my student years. I remember wishing for a Jacaranda blossom to fall on my head because this meant that one will have good luck in the upcoming exams. The purple colours in the streets of Hatfield always cheered me up and I am still amazed after 30 years that it is still part of you and your siblings’ student life”

4. Counter Narrative


(Photo by Frank Ferrera)

” When I was still a young girl we went to visit family on a farm. I don’t really remember what happend but I chased one of my brothers and then I got hooked by a Thorn tree. It hooked me trough my ear and I was half standing/ hanging in the tree with a thorn branch stuck in my ear. It was very painful and I will never forget the screaming and tears. So this is an example of a dangerous tree that does not serve a purpose for humans but to cause them pain”


My boyfriend: Jeanru Terblanche

  1. Narrative of service

” I believe the first service that a tree provides is oxygen and humans need oxygen to breathe. Without oxygen we won’t be here. Trees also filter most of the pollution in the air because it generates oxygen from carbon dioxide and this helps to reduce global warming. I remember at the age of 6 -8 years old , I would always run to the nearest tree whenever I was out of breath. I believed the closer I stand to the tree the faster I will recover. I had asthma and this happened a lot. I believed that the tree will give me oxygen if I breathe in the air around it. I am not sure if it worked though…”

2.Narrative of power

“In the Irene neighbourhood ,massive Oak trees are lined up in the streets. They must be more than a 120 years old . In summer these trees show off there massive crowns and big green leaves. It is a beautiful scenery when one drives through this “tunnel” of oak trees. During fall the orange red and yellow leaves create a blanket over the road. The fact that they are more than a 120 years old shows power and strength and they stand tall and proud as if they had conquer all. One has respect for these trees because they have been here longer than us.”

3.Narrative of heritage

“I would say the Yellow wood tree because it is South Africa’s National tree. It is proudly South African and I have seen a lot of them. The oldest ones are quite big and they are beautiful as well. It forms part of our heritage because it is commonly found in South Africa and represents our history”.

4.Counter narrative


(Photo by Rekord Centurion)

“When I was grade 10 I was getting ready for school. I realised that I overslept and got a move on. My father was mad at me for over sleeping because this meant we will have to drive fast to school and I did not live near my school. That morning everything went wrong. There was heavy traffic and my father’s mood did not help at all. And then I saw what caused the traffic. A very big tree fell down onto the road blocking the traffic. It possibly fell down because of the previous night’s storm and because of it’s age. At that time I was already too late for school and my  father turned around an we went home. At least I had a day off”


My grandpa: Johan Oostuizen

  1. Narrative of service


(Photo by SkyLightPictures)

” My family was very poor when I was a young kid. We did not always have money to spend on fresh fruits at the market and rather bought bread  milk and the essentials. We lived near a farm and my brother and I was always snooping around on the farm. The farmer had a big orchard. We went once a week to steal some fruits. We stole lemons, naartjies, oranges as big as our two hands together. My brother was tall and I sat ons his shoulders and picked the fruit. We arrived home with bags and bags full of fruit. Later we found out the farmer knew we were stealing his fruit but he wanted to help us out anyway. Those trees provided us with food and nutrition.”

Narrative of power

“I will use the orchard as an example of human control. The farmer planted those trees in lines and 2-3 metres apart. These lines were very straight and very long. The trees were all the same age grouped together. We also had human control by picking the fruit and did not wait till the fruit fell on the ground.The orchard formed unity in the land”.

Narrative of heritage

“I would say the Baobab tree is part of our heritage. It is commonly found in Limpopo and it resembles the African lands. It grows very old and very big. It is a one of a kind tree and not typically found in other countries.  This resembles African pride for me.I am fond of the bushveld and this is why I like the Baobab tree. It is the king of the Bushveld trees”.

Counter narrative

” I had to remove a tree at my house because it was busy growing through the concrete wall and lifted up the wall. It was really expensive to fell that tree and to rebuild the wall. The tree was here before we moved in and I can say that whoever planted this tree did not think that it wil grow that big. It also made a terrible mess when the fall leaves came down. I would sweep up the leaves on Friday and then on Saturday morning it piles up again in the driveway. It was really a nuisance to clean it up all the time and then my wife got me a leaf blower.”

This was a successful Photo elicitation. I found that the people was relaxed and confident when we started talking about the photos and that they were happy to share their personal stories with me. However,I did find it that they struggle to find enough words.

Sources Consulted

Aird, P. (2005) Forestry Chronicle, 81(4): 593.

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 Bardekijan & S Butt. New York: Routledge: 162-175

Ferrera, F. The Thorn tree photograph. [O].Available :

Accessed on 10 May 2016


Onroute magazine (2012). The Big Baobab. Available : : [O]

Accessed on 10 May 2016

Onroute Magazine ,Big Baobab Photograph.[O]. Available at :

Accessed on 10 May 2016

Rekord Centurion.(s.a) Tree falls onto Old JHB road Photograph. [O]. Available :

Accessed on 11 May 2016

SkyLightPictures, Tree Orchard photograph.[O]. Available at :

Accessed on 10 May 2016

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



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