Seeing is a form of knowing. The beginning of description: bark, trunk, leaves. Green is a word in a thousand colors, like brown. 


I have been photographing trees for a long time. My father gave me Nikon camera when I was twenty. That year, I was admitted to the Ursulakliniek in Leidschendam and I photographed my fellow patients, myself, the chairs on the courtyard, the trees on the ground. Beech, oak, chestnut and alder in grainy black and white. Lonely trees, even if they were standing in lines. 


These trees are not lonely. 

I am not sure about these four. 


Sam Taylor-Johnson took a picture called Self Portrait as a Tree. In my memory it is a portrait of a crooked tree standing in the back of an empty English field, lit by a late sun. When I look up the photo, there appears to be a wall with a fence on the right, a path leads to it. On the left is a shed, with branches in front of it. The tree is skewed and the light falls on it in the way I remembered. It's a happier picture than I thought. On Taylor-Johnson's website, between flashy commercials, I do see a series called Ghosts, photos of trees in the landscape with no path or fence. But they do not capture the light in the same way. 

The tree is my memory resembles this tree, but smaller and further to the back. And without a bench. 

And with this light. 


My father was a photographer and a physics teacher. Since he died, two years ago, I sometimes take the photographs he would take. I see the composition he would choose, and the joke. 

I saw this face when I cycled to the supermarket the day after his death, to buy sunflowers. He loved sunflowers. 


My father was ill but he died by accident. My mother called me that night and told me to come. When I got to the hospital, he was already dead. At that moment I saw his whole life, the full story, and what is his in me. And I thought: love is not because of something, but despite it.
The difficulties between us had been resolved years before and I am grateful for that, just as I am grateful that I was able to visit him in the hospital in the eleven days before he died. But even if it hadn't been like that, it would have been fine. I saw that when he was dead.
Since that night my eyes are also his. I see what he would see, on the street and in museums. I can judge on his behalf, I know what he would think of photos, visual art, films. Judging is a form of seeing.
I have many memories of him as a photographer. Stopping during a walk or bike ride to take a picture, visiting photo museums in Rotterdam, The Hague, Amsterdam, together, talking about what we saw. Evenings in the darkroom, the smell of the chemicals in the darkroom, the lukewarm water, the red light, the magical moment when the image emerges on white paper. Blocking the light with a piece of cardboard for negatives that are partially overexposed. Retouching photographs at his desk at night. He also retouched the white hairs on the black cat called Doggy. 

Yellow was my father’s favourite color. 


Once I was a tree. I must have been.


A photo captures the movement, arranges it like time does. Movement means something different to trees than it does to humans. There are vibrations in the earth and the air, which you feel and read with your roots, your trunk, your branches, your bark, your leaves. You grow, turn to the sun, you are moved. By the wind, bird's feet, fungi under ground, someone else's roots. Holding another's roots with yours, sharing root systems. 

These trees live in Montreal, when I took this picture the nights were very cold. Someone had wrapped them up carefully to protect them. 

Two Dutch trees in December. 


I associate my father with the earth, maybe because his eyes are brown, and my mother with the sky. Her eyes are blue. Mine are green. 

This willow draws in the ice. 


My father often photographed trees with eyes, like birch trees. Birches are pioneer trees, curious and solitary. They even grow above the tree line. I was probably a birch. 

These trees live in Finland, near Tampere. A little further on stood a few houses, in the nothing, surrounded only by snow. The elderly lived there. 


How old the oldest tree in the world is depends on how you define ‘tree’. Old Tjikko is a Swedish spruce with a root system that is almost ten thousand years old, but the trunk itself is only six hundred years old. In the White Mountains in California, there is a tree with a trunk that is 5062 years old. This tree was discovered by humans not long ago and has no name yet. There is also a root system in Utah called Pando that is almost eighty thousand years old. The individual trees that grow from that are only a few hundred years old, but genetically similar. For us, a year is long, but for those trees and their root systems it is nothing. The seasons change, and of course there were the small animals, and the birds, and reindeers or coyotes. There was the rain on your trunk and your needles, there was sun for a while, for days you disappeared into the fog. It was snowing. There was something about the temperature or the drought, something you had to do, you forgot it. You became part of everything else again, as you always do. 

Sometimes you have to shore someone. 

Lilac bells grow between the roots of this uprooted beech in the Amsterdamse bos. 


Time orders motion, Aristotle writes. A photo captures the movement, stills something, uses that to move others. Seeing is also being moved. The world always looks back. You will see whatever it is that you capture in a photo or a text differently in every moment that follows, like a memory that changes shape over time. Staying is another word for changing. Any tree can tell you that. 

With their roots, the trees hold the ground together for us, so that we can walk over it and stay here for a while. 

In the distance clouds become trees. 


My father’s photographs can be found on his website, www.gerrit-meijer.nl. 

Text and images: Eva Meijer, except the last two photographs, which were taken by Gerrit Meijer.  
This essay is a translation of Portret in Bomen, which was published online in De Internet Gids (2022).