Photo elicitation is one of the many ways in which an interview can be conducted (Harper, 2002). The Photo elicitation technique is used when an interview is accompanied by the use of visual images. These images is used to elicit comments and sentiments and can be in the form of photographs, video, art, advertising and many more. The interviewer or the interviewee can provide the images and request comments which will inspire a conversation amongst themselves and others (Harper, 2002). This type of interview style can be very useful and instils emotions, memories and feelings in both the interviewer and interviewee (Harper, 2002).

Trees are essential in the survival of mankind, but they also enrich and strengthen our environment (Dean, 2015). My sister and I would spend hours outside playing in the warm sun which usually ended in painful sunburns and a lot of “I told you so” from mom (Figure 1). My uncle’s great grandfather in his infinite wisdom resolved this issue by planting trees in strategic places and this enabled us to place our jungle gym underneath such well “placed” tree.  Now we are able to play all day in the comforting shade provided by them. My sister and I spent hours playing under its welcoming shade without the fear of another painful sunburn.

Trees can also be seen as a symbol of affluence, status and power (Dean, 2015). When my aunt moved to a new house she insisted on having her garden’ main focus to be trees (Figure 2). Having such a lavish garden many people used it as a background for their photoshoots. As a result my aunt’s garden was renowned as a beautiful photo backdrop, and my aunt well-known to be accommodating in sharing her lovely garden.  I fondly remember having me and my sister’s matric farewell photoshoot in my aunt’s garden surrounded by a “forest” of trees.

Pondering our heritage we think of monuments and sacred places we seldom regard trees as part of our culture and heritage (Dean, 2015). The Podocarpus Latifolius tree better known as the Outeniqua Yellowwood tree is the National tree of South Africa (Figure 3). My parents and I had the privilege of coming across this beautiful specimen while walking the Tsitsikamma trail in Western Cape. Its sheer size and beauty alone explains why it’s our National tree.

Although trees have plenty of benefits for humans and the environment there are a few problematic trees which make a mess, causes pollen and flairs up allergies (Dean, 2015). The Jacaranda tree is a beautiful tree and also well-known icon in Pretoria, but these trees can also cause havoc (Figure 4). Jacaranda trees are known to make a mess and as striking as they are they cover the streets in flowers which sticks to the tyres of motorists and makes it slippery and unsafe to drive. Living in Pretoria I have had first-hand experience of driving in these conditions and it was truly terrifying.

Having shown my uncle the photo of the trees his grandfather had planted during our interview was an emotional experience (Figure 1). It brought a smile to his face when I explained how the shade of the trees gave not only me and my sister, but our whole family joy. When I asked him about his own experience regarding the trees his response was heart-warming.  He recalls his father telling him the story of how he and his father planted the trees when he was younger and that his father told him that he should continue this tradition with his son. Trees according to his grandfather represent life and growth.

My uncle remembers playing in the shade provided by the trees and how he and his father would sit beneath it reading stories and having picnics. Although the shade provided was refreshing what he remembers the most is the memories he had of his father and the stories they shared beneath it.

My uncle’s father passed away recently and although it is sad he can’t help but smile every time he gazes out of the window and seeing all the trees. He told me that one day when his son is old enough he will tell him the story of his grandfather and keeping a promise will plant a tree with his son in honour of his father.

When I showed my mother the picture of the Jacaranda trees she laughed as she recalled my “near death experience” while driving on the blossom covered roads of Pretoria (Figure 4). Even though she said I completely overreacted, as I always do, she must admit that these trees are known to make a mess.

Growing up my mother remembers the enormous Jacaranda tree in their backyard. My mother is one of seven children and she remembered the look of worry on her mother’s face when the Jacaranda tree started to bloom. My mother and her siblings would play outside all day throwing each other with the blossoms on the ground.

My mother told me how my grandmother would yell at them for walking around the house with their shoes covered in blossoms. Leaving marks on the floor which she just finished mopping, although she admits she remembers the beautiful blossoms more than the yelling. The Jacaranda tree and its blossoms provided countless hours of fun for her and her siblings, until they had to rake all the blossoms into neat piles to throw away.

They never knew that one tree could make such a mess until they had to clean it up and the fun tree became a nuisance very quickly. Looking back my mother admits although the tree made a mess and the clean-up was tedious it still gave her and her siblings countless memories.

Conducting an interview with my aunt it became clear that although she was renowned for her lavish garden and array of trees it did not matter to her (Figure 2). What was most important is the joy on the faces of everyone entering her garden. My aunt received numerous request form people wanting to take photographs in her garden for a special event or just a nice family photo.

She was hesitant at first, but after looking at photographs from numerous family occasions and seeing the joy on our faces and the pure beauty of the photographs she changed her mind.  Me and my sister took our matric farewell photographs in her garden and soon after other girls asked if they could do the same. Her home became a place of status and was well-known in our community.

My aunt never did it for the status she loves hosting parties and decorating for various occasions. Having these photoshoots enriched her life and not only did she get to meet new people she felt happiness seeing them smile and making her and her house a part of their memories.

Photo elicitation is a great method to conduct an interview and to entice the interviewee to share their thoughts, memories, emotions and experiences. When a picture is used it can ignite a memory or feeling in an interviewee which they otherwise would not have thought of. This form of interview is more meaningful and enriches any conversation between two people. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but shared with others a picture can inspire a thousand more.

Picture2Figure 1: Trees planted near a jungle gym at Vaaldam. Dirk Badenhorst (photographer), 2010.

Picture1Figure 2: Metric Farewell photo at beautiful garden home in Freeway Park. Zerista Badenhorst (photographer), 2010.

118Figure 3: Quteniqua Yellowwood Tree taken while hiking through the Tsitsikamma trail. Zerista Badenhorst (photographer), 2013.

Picture3Figure 4: Photo of a Jacaranda Tree in bloom. Dirk Badenhorst (photographer), 2011.


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.

Harper, D. 2002. Talking about pictures: a case for photo elicitation. Visual Studies. New York: Routledge 17(1): 13-26.

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