The smell of rain

Dendrophilia – Love of trees



According to Penny Tinkler (2013), a photo elicitation is a newly introduced concept of conveying a research interview alongside photographs. Images “promote discussion, reflection and recollection” (Tinkler 2013:174). It is understood that pictures are “studied in their own rights” (Tinkler 2013:274) and the material that accompanies the imagery, aids in bridging ideas and making sense of the work as a collection.

 These collections divulge what the images say about “the past and the people who created and used them” (Tinkler 2013:174). Tinkler (2013) states that pictures add value to an interview through firstly, “facilitating dialogue” (Tinkler 2013:174). Photographs collaborated with written work, stimulate a breathe easy environment where discussion is freely encouraged between the interviewer and the interviewees, which ultimately shape “rapport and trust”  (Tinkler 2013:174) between the parties. Lastly, images generate beneficial information (Tinkler 2013:172) and evoke information, feelings and memories that allows people to reveal their true self within the conference. Children believe that photographs “have a powerful effect on interviews” (Tinkler 2013:174) and imagery enhance their understanding of research information. “Photographs are like a mirror to us” (Tinkler 2013:180). “We can learn a lot of things” (Tinkler 2013:180) by opening ourselves up to imagery and looking through a lens from a different perspective. 

Personal narrative

(1) Narrative of service



When we were much younger, my father built us a treehouse in our backyard. The tiny hide-away was stilted between the branches of two oak trees thriving beside one another. Whenever we got up to mischief, forgot to take our dirty dishes down to the washing room or fed the neighbourhood stray  leftovers  from the fridge, the “Doll House” elevated high in the branches of the bulked tree was the perfect escape. We felt invincible up there. It felt as if we could just reach for the heavens and capture the stars with our bare hands. These two oaks, were the reason for our memorable childhood. 

(2) Narrative of power 



The Lollipop tree. We recently moved into a house in ‘Silver Lakes Golf Estate’, where neighbours unconsciously compete for the most lush gardens and live by the saying “the grass the greener on the other side” which hypothetically mean, on their side of the fence. Lollipop trees are planted in majority of front courts. The more globular and youthful looking your Lollipop trees are looking, the better gardener you have employed. The better gardener you have, the more status you have around the community. 

(3) Narrative of heritage



Last year in August 2015, my mother, aunt and I decided to fly down to Cape Town for the weekend. My mother, Charmaine, being compelled by historic paintings and artifacts took us to go see The Money Tree in Kalk Bay. This monstrous and magnificent tree is momentous for not only its age, but for being the safe haven from “driving rain and blistering heat” (Russel Galt 2013)  when ship officers would “dispense wages to their crews” (Russel Galt 2013).It has facilitated thousands of transactions over the years and “traders known as ‘langgannas’—a Malay word reflecting Capetonian ancestry—would gather around the Money Tree to purchase cartloads of fish”(Russel Galt 2013). 

(4) Counter narratives 


The Fever Tree. In our back garden, planted side-by-side, were four grandiose Fever Trees. Otherwise known as Koorsbome in Afrikaans, these trees are popular for nesting birds because the lengthy thorns would act as extra protection from predators. These trees were home to various birds over the years, however, making their nests were was a chaotic and littered venture. Leaves and thorns from the Fever trees would cluster the grass below and fall into the swimming pool. Keeping the pool clean, was becoming an exhausting job and the dogs were constantly prodding in thorns and getting hurt. Eventually the trees became less of an aesthetic pleasure in the garden and more of a pester , and were taken out and planted in a more different place in the property. 

Interview 1: Charmaine Jooste 

After explaining all four narratives and the stories behind the images, based on my own memories relating to the appropriate narratives, Charmaine Jooste (2016), also recaptured a few of her own. Charmaine (2016) went on to discuss narrative of service, where she told a story about five pine trees that grew in front of their Georgian town house in England, 10 meters away from the busiest street. These humongous pines blocked the chaotic traffic noise and bussel. Without these trees it would have felt as if the buses and trucks were driving inside the house. These pine trees became a buffer, not only for the noise but also for the city life. 

Narrative of power, Charmaine Jooste (2016) explained that whilst living in Willow Acres which was then a newly established estate, it became apparent that the city council of Tshwane did not have the funds to develop the Greenbelt areas running through the estate. The board of trustees decided that the wild-veld area was attractive but did not necessarily compels potential buyers. A decision was made, to plant a lane of Acacia Sieberiana Trees (Fever trees). After 10 years these majestic trees lined the main street of the estate and took a many a visitors breath away.

Narrative of heritage, Charmaine Jooste (2016) talked about her recent visit to the Knysna forest where she stood in awe of the magnificent Yellow wood Trees. The national tree of South Africa, as she was told by her friend on their hike, can reach up to 2000 years of age and are a national asset. She further went on to reminiscent her journey to the forest and how she wishes that an end would be called to the harvesting of these giants in our forests.

Counter narratives, Charmaine Jooste  (2016) spoke about the Mulberry Trees at her local nursery school that created afternoon fun and delight for the scholars. The children would climb the trees trunks and harvest the small fruits which caused many children to go home with a grazed knee and laughter. However, the stain-ridden shirts and trousers were just too much for the parents and a fence was installed around the trees to avoid any future broken limbs, keep the uniform clean and to calm the nerves of the anxious mothers. The gated tree and children could no co-exist alongside happy mothers. 

Interview 2: Andre Jooste 

Andre Jooste (2016), after being shown the images and memoirs behind them, he shared his own life time experiences among all four narratives. Narrative of service, Andre Jooste (2016)  explained that during his early days at RAU (The University of Johannesburg), living in an apartment was not all it seemed of high glory and freedom. For Andre (2015) a student apartment was rather rusted and the cheapest old lot he could find. Although most of the lights decided when they wanted to switch on or not and the fridge was for the most part, rather empty, there was an Avocado pear tree that grew in the communal lawn outside. Andre Jooste (2015) spoke about how when the end of the month crept up on him and most of his money was spent on living the student life of beer and flowers for his girlfriend, those avocados made the most delicious spread on toast when with  a low-budget. 

Narrative of power, Andre Jooste (2016) mentioned that their family was relatively wealthy before his father passed away at a very young age. His mother could not afford the maintenance of their previous home and the family relocated to a different, more run-down and neglected area. This transition was difficult for Andre, for the sole reason that the journey to school travelling on his bicycle, now did not include the softened and pure scent of roses bushes lined in the streets. Rose bushes, were to him a symbol of power, status and riches. He promised himself, that when he graduated from university that his first pay check would go towards buying and planting roses bushes in his mother’s garden.

Narrative of heritage, Andre Jooste specified Jacaranda Trees. He noted that, their luminous purple glow lined in the streets of Pretoria was what he looked forward to every October. During the 4 years that he lived in England, he long for the purple carpet of petals that would cover the streets, but knew that only South Africa  was treasured with this beauty.

Counter narrative, Andre Jooste remembered a mammoth of a tree, known as a Black Wattle when he was growing up in Eden-vale, Johannesburg. The jumbo roots of the tree, started mounting the pavement of the house where all the cars used to park. The tree was far too large to remove, so as years went by the damage to the pavement became even futile. He also mention, the small yellow flowers that would blanket the pavement and how he loathed his fathers command to sweep up the nuisance mess.   

Interview 3: Lucinda Du Plessis

Narrative of service, Lucinda Du Plessis (2016) spoke about a Lavender Tree rooted outside her ballet studio. After her class, it became a weekly ritual to wait in the shadows of this tree. Her mother always knew where she would be waiting when she arrived to pick her up and Lecinda mentioned how this tree was her safe haven, a peaceful pillar where she could relax and finish some homework.

Narrative of power, Lucinda Du Plessis (2016) stated that a Cycad Tree was always something she associated with power, strength and royalty. She admired the Cycad Tree because it was oriental in a composition of greenery and recalled her mother mentioning how difficult it was to maintain a tree such as the Cycad and how prolonged the process of their growth is before you can actually appreciate their beauty.

Narrative of heritage, Lucinda Du Plessis (2016) mentioned a Sneeze-wood tree in her garden. All the neighbourhood friends would come over to play hide-and-go-seek, in her large backyard. Who ever was picked to seek their hiding friends would have to stand behind the large trunk and count to 50. This Sneeze-wood tree became the community favourite, memorialized or the laughs of countless children. It was there when Lecinda was born and is still standing there today. It is apart of who she was, is and it yet to become. 

Counter narrative, Lucinda Du Plessis (2016) spoke about a large Oak Tree at her grandparents home, that grew to be gigantic. Where the tree was planted, became the most avoided area of the beautiful back garden. However, this area included the swimming pool, where the Oak Tree would barricade the sun from warming the splash space. The tree was removed so that cooling down from the blistering heat was enjoyable to every member of the family, on a Sunday afternoon and not something everybody dreaded. 



It is facile to conclude that interviewing individuals alongside the accompaniment of photographs stimulates a laid back, conversational environment. The person being interviewed sheds off any unnecessary fear, discomfort and pressure whilst giving feedback on questions asked. Photographs paint a picture in the minds of the interviewee of what is being asked, so that the answered provided come from boxes of memories dusted and relived in this moment. People enjoy the thoughts from their, whether good or bad, their faces light up and the discussion is oiled up.Photo elicitation is important.

Dean (2016), was correct in saying that trees are not only pillars in nature, but pillars of our past, present and future. Their trunks, painted with various carvings, roughed edges and unevenly toned shades of brown. Their leaves whisper interesting stories in the wind of those who shared a bond with them. These beautiful residents adapt to the world that humans bring forth, they have conquered in silence and will stand to live through times where humans will suffer. We must nurture those who nurture us. 


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.

Russel Galt. 2013. Heritage trees of Cape Town: beacons of local history & culture. [O] Available at: [Accessed 29 April 2016].



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