This work by documentary photographer Hunter Barnes provides a unique and intimate portrait of a small community of Serpent Handlers in West Virginia. This devout way of life finds its roots in the King James Bible, with followers believing that the literal interpretation of passages of Mark and Luke regarding handling poisonous serpents and drinking lethal poisons is central to their faith. With lyrical reflections accompanying his photographs, Hunter’s sensitive study brings beauty and understanding to a perhaps misunderstood practice. In recording this slowly diminishing community, this photographic collection also provides a valuable service to the cultural history of the United States.
"They don't just handle at any time. They only handle when they have that feeling. I mean, there is nothing fake about this. They're wild timber rattlers. Not just anybody goes up there and handles. It's not at any point. It's just you can feel it – it's incredible. They handle on faith. Their faith in God is so strong and so pure they believe all of it. They don't just believe a little bit [of the King James Bible] they take every word literal. Serpent handling means everything to them.These people treated me like I was family and were absolutely kind and giving to me." -Hunter Barnes