Specializing in Faith & Religion
Columbus, Ohio, USA

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

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