Photo elicitation refers to making use of photographs while conducting a research interview. Inserting a photograph into an interview is usually a very useful tool in assisting the interviewee to talk about a certain topic, and they are able to get a visual perception rather than relying solely on their imagination and memory. When making use of a photograph the flow of conversation between the interviewer and the interviewee is much more effective, as feelings, memories and information is evoked.
There are various stories that trees can tell, there are many messages and meaning hidden inside them, these stories affect the way we see trees, especially in the city. We definitely treat trees differently and use them or protects them differently once we hear their narratives. As mentioned in (Dean,2015), there are three traditional narratives regarding the way we see trees in our everyday lives, namely, the narrative of service, the narrative of power, and the narrative of heritage. There is one counter narrative however, and this is the unruly narrative.
The Narrative of Service:
This narrative has to do with trees that provide selflessly for human beings to create convenience and ease for them. The types of services tree would often provide is are things like shade, shelter, decoration, protection, resources and health benefits (Dean, 2015). This is an image of a tree swing, this is a perfect example of a tree simply providing for us without expecting anything in return. This type of service is for recreational purposes.
The Narrative of Power:
This narrative refers to the way in which humans have control over trees, whether it’s where they are planted, how they are shaped, or how they are forced to grow (Dean, 2015). In the given photograph the example of a Bonsai tree is a perfect example of the narrative of power. The growth of these trees are controlled by humans for their own personal reasons, who thus have power over the trees.
The Narrative of Heritage:
The narrative of heritage has to do with a tree which gives some cultural insight of the area, types of people or events that took place in and around the area of the tree (Dean, 2015). The following tree is a huge Baobab tree in one of the camps in the Kruger National Park. This tree is more than 1000 years old, and can be considered as an extraordinary sight and attraction that perfectly represents South African heritage. In ancient African cultures this tree was considered as the “Tree of Life”.
The Unruly Narrative:
The unruly tree narrative refers to trees as being non-beneficial for humans, on the contrary, they can be messy, dangerous, cause problems, or simply take up needed space (Dean, 2015). In many cases trees become a nuisance instead of being beneficial for example, the roots of large trees generally grow large as well, and start pushing u form under the ground. In most cases these roots, if the tree is planted in a city area, start lifting up pavement or even cause unevenness on roads.
Interview 1: a peer
(Heetun, T, 2016) stated that the trees she sees on campus make up her narrative of service. These trees have a calming effect for her, when she is able to see them and simply focus on their beauty after a stressful day working hard on campus. She also feels that the area they are planted has a perfect atmosphere to escape from the fast pace of student life, and to simply relax for a while. These trees along with the rest of the plants in this green area actually have health benefits, as they provide oxygen. The narrative power also consists of trees that can be found on the University of Pretoria campus. The trees that are being described are planted in a very obvious straight line on either side of a road, to create a canopy growing over the road.
The tree narrative of heritage that (Heetun, T, 2016) refers to is a Eucalyptus tree that is 97meters tall and can be found in Magoebaskloof, Woodbush forest Reserve. This tree is rumoured to be one of the tallest trees in the world. This tree can be regarded as a heritage site, as it has been present during historical events such as wars, and it can still be found. The unruly tree that (Heetun, T, 2016) refers to is one from her childhood, an oak tree that used to make a huge mess with leaves falling. The tree also blocked most of the sunlight off on the front side of the house. This tree also had big roots that were starting to crack the pavement, and ultimately the tree served as an easy entrance into the yard for burglars.
Interview 2: a parent
(Verster, D, 2016) started her narrative of service story by referring to the two large trees that she had in her back garden as a child. Between these two trees hung a hammock for members of the family to relax on. The trees served as anchor points for the hammock to be tied around in order for it to hang off the ground. These trees were used for recreational purposes, benefitting the family members, but not the tree, as it often occurs in the service narrative.
When looking at the narrative of power, (Verster, D, 2016) referred to the peach tree her father had planted in front of their house during her childhood days. This story is a narrative of power because the place in which the tree was planted was completely controlled to ensure that it was placed in the perfect spot, with the right amount of sunlight, and exposure to rain. Another part of the story of this tree is how it was trimmed every season, this is definitely power exhorted from the human’s side to control the pace and the way in which the tree grows.
The Narrative of heritage that (Verster, D, 2016) told was one of a tree not too far from her house, about two block down the road. This tree was planted in a park, and on it was a heart engraving with the letters M and R inside. This tree really sums up something that took place at a certain point in time, and it is physically captured in the form of an engraving on the tree. This engraving is a representation of the culture of the people in the area, and will be carried across generations.
The unruly tree that (Verster, D, 2016) tells about is about the mulberry tree in their back garden, planted beside the washing line. This tree was extremely big, and although it provided the family with delicious mulberries, and of course leaves for pet silkworms, the fallen mulberries created such a mess. The mulberries would stain not only the children’s fee as they run on the fallen ones, but also the clothes that were hung up to dry on the washing line, as they fell.
Interview 3: grandparent
(Nel, P, 2016) tells the story of her tree house when referring to the narrative of service. The large tree in their background was perfect for building a tree house in. the branches served as great beams to rest the floorboards on, and ensured that the treehouse would always be safe and stable. This is also a recreational service that the tree provided, solely providing to serve the family members, while the tree has no actual benefit.
The narrative of power that (Nel, P, 2016) refers to is the forest of trees she saw when going on holiday with the family during her young adult years. These trees were planted in perfect straight and evenly spaced rows. In some places younger trees were planted. This is a perfect example of how humans are in complete control of how the trees grow, are planted, are harvested and are cut down. The natural processes of the trees are altered in such a way as to provide for the farmers who are in charge of them.
(Nel, P, 2016) stated that the tree narrative of heritage could be seen on a tree in a local play park close to home, where there was a swimming pool and a braai area. The braai area was built under the tree, probably for the purpose of providing shade. The heritage of the people that spent their time here is clear in the way the branches of the tree that right above the braai has been turned black from all the smoke. This is a very good representation of the South African Afrikaans culture that was popular in the area at the time.
The untruly tree that (Nel, P, 2016) refers to is the tree just outside the town where she bought her first apartment. This tree is extremely old, and has died quite a few back. The branches have dried up, and therefore sometimes parts of it would fall down into the road. There has been a case where a branch has fallen on a car, and caused some serious damage. The branches often fall down and cause a blockade on the road that prevents cars driving on the road from passing.
In the end it has been proven that conducting a photo elicitation interview is extremely effective. All of the people that have been interviewed were able to remember memories relating to the same topics, since they could visually understand the questions that were being asked and discussed. The interviewer and the interviewee are easily able to start a conversation that continues to flow consistently.
List of sources:
Dean, J.2015. The unruly tree: stories from archives, in Urban forests, trees, and greenspace: a political ecology perspective, edited by LA Sandberg, A Bardekjian & S Butt. New York: Routledge: 162-175
Heetun, T. student, University of Pretoria. 2016. Interview by author. [Transcript]. 11 May. Pretoria
Nel, J. pentioner, 2016. Interview by author. [Transcript]. 9 May. Pretoria
Tinkler, P. 2013. Using photographs in social and historical research. London: SAGE.
Verster, D. Gijima. 2016. Intrview by author, [Transcript]. 11 May. Pretoria