Photo Story: Hunter Barnes, "Praise"

Documentary photographer Hunter Barnes found himself living inside a small community of Serpent Handlers in the hills of West Virginia. This marks our second installment of photo stories with him. In this photo entitled, "Praise" Barnes tells us about what it was like to attend a church service with serpent handlers, the power that he felt when entering their church and the music that they played. 

"Sometimes there'd be six or seven people [in the church]. I don't know, the power you feel coming out of that building – you hear all the music. That's part of the service too, the audio. They got this really distinct music. It's kind of like Nashville meets Gospel stomp – it's as authentic as it gets. 

Their drummer didn't end up showing this night and I was like, "I can play." So we ended up playing (I actually even ended up taking this photo from behind the drum set), the vibe felt good and everyone started [serpent] handling with me in the room. People were drinking strychnine, which is basically rat poison, and handling. It was going on right beside me and it didn't bother me, I was part of it you know and I think there's this whole unity with these people. That's what makes it real, that's what makes it incredible and that's why those miracles happen. Really, they're a family of faith and that's their life. 

It wasn't just about handling the rattlesnakes. It's really a story about this family of faith that invited me in."  Hunter Barnes

Hunter Barnes' latest exhibition, "A Testimony of Serpent Handling" will be open to the public at Milk Gallery from December 13th to the 23rd. Please join us this Thursday, December 13th from 7 – 10PM for the book signing and opening reception.

RSVP here: [email protected]

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