Exercise 4.5 – Googling a tree

These are screen grabs of the first five screensful of images in a Google search on ‘tree’, accessed on 7 October 2016. There is a mix of photographs and graphic illustrations. I  considered restricting the search to photographs only but decided to leave it open because the illustrations, having been created ex nihilo, show what their creators regard as the essence of a tree.

tree1tree2

In the first two screens we see almost exclusively single-tree ‘portraits’, mostly in leaf. What is fascinating is that they are nearly all images of mature, isolated broadleaf trees. The first conifers appear toward the bottom of the second screen. Mostly, we see complete trees – even the two images that are tightly cropped show trunk, main branches and leaves. Those photographs that include skies show blue sky and clouds which (whether intentionally or not) reference the shape of the crown of the tree.

There is a clear archetypal shape (with the exception of the ‘tree circus’ stick man), strong single trunk with radiating branches starting some distance above ground, supporting a rounded crown. With the exception of the tree in blossom, the colour scheme is brown and green.

tree3tree4

The third and fourth screens are ‘more of the same’, but we do start to see images concentrating on individual features rather than the whole trees: the trunk of the redwood, and some close-ups of leaves and fruit. We also see some ‘zooming-out’ to show isolated trees as elements in larger landscapes, and some less conventional shapes.

There is also a more playful element to some of the illustrations, and in the image of carvings. The leopard and its prey show another way in which trees might be ‘used’

tree5

The fifth screen continues these themes.

It is also interesting to reflect on what we do not see in these images. There are no fallen or felled trees, no logging camps or lumberjacks (tree surgeons first appear towards the bottom of the page, just above ‘show more results’). There are no pictures of pests and diseases. Also, surprisingly, no Christmas trees. At this stage, we are presented with an idealised (if not sanitised) concept of ‘the tree in nature’

The first images that are not recognisably trees are advertisements for ‘Fever-Tree’ tonic water and a children’s cartoon character ‘Tree Fu Tom’, both of which appear at about the tenth screen.

Responding to Mount Fuji

Fujiyama (Mount Fuji) is said to be the most-photographed mountain on the planet. This must be due to its location, 60 miles from Tokyo and visible from the city on a clear day, while more spectacular mountains such as Everest are rather more remote. I am not convinced that Fujiyama would attract the attention that it does, based on its appearance alone.

google-fuji

Google images search on “mount fuji” (accessed 4/10/2016)

Geologically, Fujiyama is the archetypal stratovolcano, an almost perfect (if rather shallow) cone which is snow-capped for much of the year. The majority of images that appear on a Google images search use the mountain as a backdrop; those which show Fujiyama as the main subject appear (to me) very static and boring.

The use of the mountain as backdrop can be seen in the classic paintings of Hokusai (1760-1849) and Hiroshige (1797-1858), both of whom produced series of landscape prints entitled ’36 views of Mount Fuji’. Hokusai went on to add another 10 prints to his original series and, later, another series of 100.

The images above, three from each artist, are typical of the sets (source: Wikipedia Creative Commons). All show Fujiyama rather small (or very small) in frame, as a background element, and I note that both artists have chosen to dramatise the mountain by depicting it with much steeper sides than we see in photographed reality. Although both collections are described as ‘views of Mount Fuji’, it is the foreground elements that are most important and in many cases they show the 19th-century Japanese equivalent of industry or transport.

Set against this background, I suggest that the ‘Fuji City’ images of John Davies and the ‘Fuji’ images of Chris Steele-Perkins are very much in the tradition of the old painters, showing Mount Fuji as a backdrop to contemporary life. Indeed, Steel-Perkins tells us that his book is a response to having been presented with a copy of Hokusai’s.

In summary, there is a tradition, both photographic and painterly, of using Mount Fuji as a background element to give a sense of place (rather than just being incidental) not as a foreground subject in its own right.

References

Davies, J. (2008) Shizuoka Prefecture & Fuji City [online] at: http://www.johndavies.uk.com/fuji%20text.htm (accessed 4/10/2016)

Steele-Perkins, C. (2002) Books – Fuji [online] at: http://www.chrissteeleperkins.com/books/fuji.html (accessed 4/10/2016)

Wikipedia (s.d.) Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji [online] at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty-six_Views_of_Mount_Fuji (accessed 4/10/2016)

Wikipedia (s.d.) Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Hiroshige) [online] at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty-six_Views_of_Mount_Fuji_(Hiroshige) (accessed 4/10/2016)