Synopsis: Congdon Sawmill for Visura/Washington Post July 17 2017
I started taking pictures at the Congdon Sawmill in Lyme, CT in 1972 and have
continued photographing there ever since. Central to my project are the portraits of
the woodsman Amos Congdon, a man I thought of as the spirit of the trees: sharpening
the mill saw, feeding his cattle, tallying trees in a woodlot.
It’s been a privilege to know Amos Congdon and record his picture for the
future. He made such a perfect American image, plain and simple. I knew when I
saw him how important his picture would be. All my early Congdon work was done
with an handheld Leica, using 35mm black and white film.
The project has gone on to include: designs in the wood grain, pictures of the
clutter that lies around the place, this last group has a symbolic, magical quality
Personal Statement: Congdon Sawmill for Visura/Washington Post
Amos Congdon passed away in 1992.
In 1995 I started taking pictures of a log truck left to rust and fall apart at the
edge of the mill lot. Using 35 mm color film, a Nikon N-90 on a tripod and having
the film scanned. Different seasons of the year, all times of day. Originally it had been
a 2.5 ton US Army truck, built by Kaizer Jeep between 1962-1964 with a multifuel 146
hp engine. (Multifuel, meaning the engine is built to run on many different types of
fuel.) Joking, the Sawyer said there were tadpoles in the gas tank when he bought it and
still it started up for him.
The hillside pasture was grown to weeds, an apple tree behind the truck
blossomed lovely white and pink in spring, dried to leaves of red and gold for fall.
(Files 14-15) During a particularly hard time in the late 90’s the truck was traded for a
load of logs.
Another photographic theme that developed for me at this sawmill is of the
Customers who come to buy wood. I had always noticed how they usually seemed
happy to be there, up-beat and interested at the start their new project. (File 32)
Around the turn of the century I started using the digital Nikon D300, leaving
the picures in color. I photographed the mill spaces on a tripod with filters to
save the sky, made pictures of wood grain and the scatter of pieces of wood. Two
years ago I started using black and white film again with my old N90 mostly handheld.
They are shy people. Often feeling I am sure ragged and out of place, at other
times proud and well aware of the woodsmen’s place beside the tree. I compensate
for my intrusion by doing sawmill work for the Congdons. This makes the situation
more acceptable for them and to myself as well. And it’s helped me learn sawmill
This sawmill place is a great sanctuary for me. It allowed me to go back in
time as best as can be done, something I’ve always felt I needed to do. It connected
me to a rural American spirit that I wanted to be a part of.
Tony Donovan, July 7, 2017