BOOK: Test of Faith
Pentecostal serpent handlers, also known as Signs Followers, hold a literal interpretation of a verse in the King James Bible’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? 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 was published with the generous support of the 2016 Duke Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography.
Feb. 21, 2017: Interview in American Photo Magazine
July 18, 2017: Preview in Pacific Standard Magazine
Nov. 16, 2017: Radio Interview on WUNC’s “The State of Things”
Nov. 22, 2017: Excerpt in the Oxford American
Nov. 27, 2017: Photo of the Day in PDN
Dec. 8, 2017: Feature in the Charleston Gazette-Mail
Dec. 22, 2017: Feature in the Columbus Dispatch
Jan. 3, 2018: Review in The Christian Century
Jan. 9, 2018: Interview in Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership
Jan. 23, 2018: Feature in Ohio State News
Jan. 26, 2018: Feature in The Guardian
Feb. 12, 2018: Interview in NYU’s The Revealer
March 8, 2018: Review in Reading Religion
April 5, 2018: Feature in Ohio State Insights
April 2018: Review in Fraction Magazine
Duke University Press/CDS Books
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published in November 2017
$45.00 on Amazon
$50.00 for signed copy
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.
Visually stunning . . . Pond is deeply aware of the ethical quandaries of photographing a person while he is dying, which she writes about in a theologically provocative afterword. Her photographic eye is more compassionate than voyeuristic, and she captures something of the essence of Wolford’s faith even while hesitating to pin it down.
Who are these purposeful, vibrant people so different from myself? Test of Faith commands this question and prompts me to consider the basis and limitations of my own worldview.
Photographers know that trust is key to getting access to the most intimate moments of folks’ lives. But what happens if that trust is broken? This is a rare and heartbreakingly beautiful story of loss, of grace, and of forgiveness. This work is challenging and thoughtful.
Pond’s book will not make you believe in sign following, but perhaps you will see it. Perhaps you will come to see that sign followers do need not to be explained away in yet another documentary. They need to be seen. Test of Faith lets you see them. What then is tested?
To move through this book is to feel the author unwind herself. We feel her taking the measure of the space in which her subjects live . . . We get a sense that Pond has arrived somewhere very different than where she sought to go when she began, and it also feels like the beginning of a larger story.
Exhibit at Duke University
Rubenstein Photography Gallery
411 Chapel Drive
Durham, North Carolina
Artist’s Talk, Reception, & Book Signing: November 16, 2017, 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing at Ohio State University
Hayes Cape Room
1739 N. High Street
Book Talk & Signing at Gramercy Books
2424 East Main Street
Exhibit at Taylor Books
226 Capitol Street
Charleston, West Virginia
Book Talk & Signing: January 20, 2018, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing at Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Wells Hall, A118
619 Red Cedar Road
East Lansing, Michigan
Exhibit at Ohio University
Schoonover Center Gallery
20 East Union Street
Book Talk & Signing: March 6, 7 – 9 p.m.
Presentation at Appalachian Studies Association Conference
150 W. 5th Street
Book Talk at St. John Fisher College
“America Seen” Photography Speaker Series
St. John Fisher College
Basil Hall, Room 135
Rochester, New York
Book Talk & Signing at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore
5751 South Woodlawn Ave
Exhibit & Talk at American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting