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And then there was a jacket . . .

Lauren Pond: A Journalist Crossing the Cultural Divide

“Lauren Pond’s work suggests that the art of grasping genuine cultural difference—something that’s essential to effective reporting on the American electorate—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.”

“In November of 2017, Duke University Press will publish Test of Faith, a book of photographs by the 31-year-old Ohio photographer Lauren Pond. The volume has already generated buzz, having won the Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography. . . .

“The most common outside reaction to the snake handlers’ ideology is to dismiss it entirely. It’s an understandable take, but it’s also an easy one. Pond, who started taking photographs of serpent handling in 2011, assumed a decidedly more difficult approach: she stripped away the predictable presuppositions, took seriously the Pentecostal brand of worship, and worked to understand snake handlers as snake handlers. But not only that: She aimed to present them as human beings as well, real people with complex systems of belief that, in the depth of their faith, deserved to be understood.

“After learning more about Pond through a phone interview and several email exchanges, it became clear that her mission was to do more than lend meaningful insight into an elusive and exotic religious practice (although she does this remarkably well). It was also to provide a model of journalistic integrity that might, in its quest to grasp a radically alien practice, better help us respect cultures we too often reduce to caricature. Pond chose empathy and tolerance. And it shows in the amazingly nuanced portrayal of her subjects. . . .

Mack Wolford’s mother, Snook, with a customer at the Bramwell Café, Bramwell, West Virginia, 2013. Photograph by Lauren Pond.

“In the wake of Trump’s election, as well as the emergence of “fake news,” the media that so badly botched its coverage of the American electorate has made at least rhetorical efforts to broaden its cultural horizons and double down on the accuracy of its reporting. NPR has lately been talking about providing “reliable and thoughtful spaces” for “important conversations” while remaining a go-to outlet for fact-based reporting.

“Space and facts are fine and good, as are decent conversations. But Lauren Pond’s work suggests that the art of grasping genuine cultural difference—something that’s essential to effective reporting on the American electorate—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.”

Proofing Test of Faith

Looking at first round of printer’s proofs with photographer Lauren Pond and designer Amy Ruth Buchanan at Duke University Press. The book goes to the printer in August and will be available in November.

 

Lauren Pond’s Test of Faith: Duke University Press Fall 2017 Catalog

 

Gloriann Liu: 2016 Finalist

Zarghona, In Her Own Words depicts the story of Zarghona, a mother of six and a true survivor. Her youngest son lost the use of his legs after a rocket exploded near him, and now she is his primary caregiver. While most of her children are married now, they still rely on her strength and endurance.


Zarghona was sold into marriage at the age of ten to a widower forty years her senior. She had her first child at the age of fourteen, which means she has spent most of her life taking care of other people. Yet, you wouldn’t know it by talking to her. She has no self-pity because she doesn’t know any other kind of life. Every day means survival and finding food for her family.

I have been so touched by Zarghona and her life that I invited her to edit my photographs with me. I wanted the captions to be in her words because I feel I could never capture her spirit in my words alone. —Gloriann Liu

 

Keith Yahrling: 2016 Finalist

The area of the original thirteen colonies of the United State of America extends from Maine to Georgia and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. Within this historic boundary, the American Revolution was staged and ideological notions of freedom and liberty were first developed.

Since 2012, I have embarked on numerous trips through this historic area, searching for instances that illustrate how contentious notions of freedom and liberty are represented in the everyday actions of individuals and the many ways those ideals are embedded within the landscape. In addition to my explorations of the broader area of the original thirteen colonies, I have also explored locations where battles took place during the Revolutionary War to pinpoint the exact landscapes where individuals fought over the principles that I am trying to locate in the broader settings.


My interests in these themes formed at an early age, from the childhood explorations of a Revolutionary War battlefield located in my hometown of National Park, New Jersey, to the rare stories my father would tell me from his tour in Vietnam. My explorations through America’s original thirteen colonies represents both a desire to understand the democratic roots of my country and my own personal heritage, because the two are inseparable.

The photographs describe the landscape and the individuals within the space of the original thirteen colonies. My intention is to bring to the surface an American ethos within the places I have explored. For the Revolution captures the complex unfinished nature of the United States through all of its triumphs and failures, as we move towards a more perfect union. —Keith Yahrling