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.
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.
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’
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.