BOOK: Test of Faith
Pentecostal serpent handlers, also known as Signs Followers, hold a literal interpretation of a verse in the New Testament’s Gospel of Mark which states that, among other abilities, true believers shall be able to “take up serpents.” For more than a century, members of this uniquely Appalachian religious tradition have handled venomous snakes during their worship services, risking death as evidence of their unwavering faith.
Who are the serpent handlers? What motivates them to continue their potentially lethal practices through the generations? In 2011, I traveled to West Virginia in search of answers to these questions. There, I met Pastor Mack Wolford, one of the best-known Signs Following preachers in the region, and spent the following year documenting Mack and his family. The course of my work changed dramatically in May 2012, when Mack, then forty-four years old, suffered a fatal rattlesnake bite during a worship service I attended. I photographed the events that followed and have continued my relationship with Mack’s family.
Test of Faith provides a deeply nuanced, personal look at serpent handling that not only invites greater understanding of a religious practice that has long faced derision and criticism; it also serves as a meditation on the photographic process, its ethics, and its capacity to generate empathy.
Test of Faith is published through the generous support of the 2016 Duke Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography.
Duke University Press/CDS Books
Hardcover, 144 pages
Available October 27, 2017
$45.00 on Amazon
$55.00 for copy signed by artist
Lauren Pond's work suggests that the art of grasping genuine cultural difference . . . demands so much more. It asks us to shed our preconceptions, enter strange communities in a spirit of tolerance and humility, interact with genuine respect and curiosity, and earn the trust of our subjects. It asks us, in other words, to do so much more than conventional journalism currently asks us to do.
Exhibit at Rubenstein Photography Gallery
Durham, North Carolina
Book Talk at Duke University
Rubenstein Photography Gallery
Durham, North Carolina
Book Talk at Ohio State University
Exhibit at Schoonover Gallery