In March 1841 William Henry Fox Talbot’s childhood tutor, Dr. George Butler, was so enthusiastic about his former pupil’s invention that he suggested in a letter that “what I should like to see, would be a set of photogenic Calotype drawings of Forest Trees, the Oak, Elm, Beech, &c. taken, of course, on a perfectly calm day, when there should not be one breath of wind to disturb and smear-over the outlines of the foliage. This would be the greatest stride towards effective drawing & painting that has been made for a Century. One Artist has one touch for foliage, another has another. . . . but your photogenic drawing would be a portrait; it would exhibit the touch of the great Artist, Nature.” This is one example—and a very fine one indeed—of the skeletal forms of trees that Talbot was to photograph. He was able to get to the very structure of the tree, silhouetted against the clear light of a winter day and carefully placed in context with the trees on the horizon. A shorter exposure time permitted better sharpness by limiting the wind’s effects on the branches.
Unusually, this particular print also tells another story. One can see a slight irregularity along the right edge near the top that serves as a reminder that the negative was on paper and was trimmed by hand. Other positives made from the negative record a slight stub of paper where the scissors wandered. It broke off or was removed before this example was made. The negative and another positive are housed at the British Library.
Larry Schaaf, William Henry Fox Talbot, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2002), 64. ©2002 J. Paul Getty Trust.