Louis–Rémy Robert (French, 18101882)
Salted paper print from paper negative; 10 3/8 x 12 9/16 in. (26.4 x 31.9 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Mrs. Walter Annenberg and The Annenberg Foundation Gift, 2005 (2005.100.38)
While painters might sketch the trunk of an old beech to quickly note some visual incident or as a study for part of a more elaborate landscape composition, Robert could not abbreviate his subject in the same ways. Because a camera records everything visible within its range, photographs are de facto finished compositions, replete to the frame. In this picture, that overall finish or completeness is obscured: the tones clump and swallow detail, and the granular texture (resulting from the use of a paper negative) emphasizes the coarse bark, the gnarled trough for animals, and the uneven, trampled ground around the great tree. Thus, though Robert could not make his photograph less complete (by omitting the stables and rows of paired poplars in the background, for example), he gave his picture the satisfying qualities of a painter's sketch; it is rough, familiar, and, in its reductive concentration, distinctly economical.