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Lauren Pond (2016)

Photograph by Michael Bou-Nacklie

Lauren Pond, a photographer based in Columbus, Ohio, was chosen by curator Peter Barberie to win the eighth biennial Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography for her color series Test of Faith. The images document, as Pond writes, “a family of Pentecostal Holiness serpent handlers that I have photographed since 2011.

“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.’ Despite scores of deaths from snakebites and the closure of numerous churches, there remains a small contingent of serpent handlers devoted to keeping the practice alive.

“Who are the serpent handlers? What motivates them to keep going? These are questions that I sought to answer when I first traveled to West Virginia and met Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford, one of the best-known Signs Following preachers in the region.I spent the following year getting to know him and his family, but the course of my project changed dramatically in May 2012 when Mack, then forty-four years old, was bitten by a rattlesnake during a worship service I attended.”

01Pond: “Sheba,” a timber rattlesnake, slithers around the neck of Pentecostal serpent-handling Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford during a worship service in southern West Virginia’s Panther Park. (Panther, W. Va.; May 28, 2011)

Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford’s yellow timber rattlesnake Sheba slithers around his neck during an outdoor worship service, Panther, West Virginia, May 2011. Photograph by Lauren Pond.

Lauren Pond, a documentary photographer who specializes in faith and religion, is currently the multimedia content producer for the American Religious Sounds Project within The Ohio State University’s Center for the Study of Religion. She also manages an art gallery and works on freelance projects across the country. She received her Master of Arts degree in photojournalism from Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication in 2014, and bachelor’s degrees in journalism and art from Northwestern University in 2009. Pond’s photographs have appeared in such publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, and have been recognized by the Magnum/Inge Morath Foundations, the Lucie Foundation, FotoVisura, Photo District News, College Photographer of the Year, and the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, among others. She has spoken about her work at universities and conferences across the United States.

Lauren Pond’s website

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