A Palm Tree Is A Palm Tree Is A Palm Tree, a play on Gertrude Stein’s line of verse “a rose is a rose is a rose,” explores the multiplicity of the iconic palm tree in photographic repetition and variation. Of his instantly-recognizable and internationally symbolic muse, Roels has said, “Every palm tree is alike, and looks the same no matter what its location. Each is different, though, as each is shaped by the events of its location.” He has photographed palm trees predominantly in the south of Europe.
As Roels considers the act of printing as important as the act of photographing itself, he uses analog photographic techniques such as solarization and under- and overexposure to add or subtract information. Finding each print of inherent value, his grid compositions are built of multiple iterations of a single moment and a single image. No two prints are the same. He uses the separate prints and unique details in sequences and fluctuations to convey a more significant meaning, much like the way a poet uses individual words to write a poem.
Says Roels, “Using the name of a thing invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it. For me, palm trees evoke history, exotic locations, luxury, freedom, and an Indiana Jones-like mystery. But there’s also a certain sense of post-colonial shame, and often palm trees bear testimony to distinct gaps between rich and poor. I may claim that palm trees are palm trees but there are enormous semantic differences between a palm tree in Switzerland and one in North Africa.”