Test of Faith: Signs, Serpents, Salvation - Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography (Hardback)
  • Test of Faith: Signs, Serpents, Salvation - Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography (Hardback)
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Test of Faith: Signs, Serpents, Salvation - Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography (Hardback)

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£36.00
Hardback 144 Pages / Published: 27/11/2017
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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. Despite scores of deaths from snakebite and the closure of numerous churches in recent decades, there remains a small contingent of serpent handlers devoted to keeping the practice alive.

Who are the serpent handlers? What motivates them to continue their potentially lethal practices through the generations? Documentary photographer Lauren Pond traveled to West Virginia in search of answers to these questions. There she met Pastor Randy "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 her work changed dramatically in May 2012, when Mack, then forty-four years old, suffered a fatal rattlesnake bite during a worship service she attended. Pond photographed the events that followed and has continued her 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.

Published by Duke University Press and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

Publisher: Duke University Press
ISBN: 9780822370345
Number of pages: 144
Weight: 1202 g
Dimensions: 254 x 279 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
"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." * Christianity Today *
"Open the book, and whether you are of faith or not, see what Pond came to see: people of faith, enduring to an end we all face. See sign followers seeking only to be obedient to their God. See people believing, loving and caring, backsliding and returning to be baptized again. And yes, dying. See people so human in their failings and need for re-baptism that a common saying among believers (however baptized) is that even the fish know who they are. Pond's magnificent book will introduce them to you." -- Ralph W. Hood, Jr. * Reading Religion *
"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. Services that were once photographed as delirious frenzy are now shown as infused with calm, though no less ecstatic. 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." -- Leo Hsu * Fraction Magazine *

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