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Test of Faith: Signs, Serpents, Salvation by Lauren Pond

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In 1983, when he was fifteen years old, “Mack” Wolford’s father, a serpent-handling pastor from Phelps, Kentucky, died of snakebite at a West Virginia church service. Wolford worked a variety of jobs, including at a North Carolina textile mill, as a window installer in Texas, and a drywall installer in Tennessee. In 1995 he married his wife, Fran. While maintaining machinery at a West Virginia coal mine, he was injured and went on disability. In 1999 he became an ordained preacher and began following his father’s snake-handling faith. In May of 2012, twenty-nine years after the death of his father, Wolford was bitten by “Old Yeller,” a snake he owned and had handled often, at a service at the Panther Wildlife Area in McDowell County, West Virginia. Wolford was buried next to his father in Phelps, Kentucky. Lauren Pond, a documentary photographer originally from California, was invited by Wolford to photograph his services in 2011, and was invited into Wolford’s home as he was dying. She was also invited to the memorial service that transpired a year after Wolford’s death. This book consists of a little commentary and a lot of full-page color photographs that document an extraordinary life of faith. Lauren Pond now lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she works for the Center for the Study of Religion at Ohio State University. This book won the biennial 2016 Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography sponsored by Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies and the Honickman Foundation, based in Philadelphia.

Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2016. 144pages with 96 color photographs, almost all full-page, and a forword by Peter Barberie. Oversized hardback in dust jacket