Sunday, August 26, 2007

People and Animals - Updated 2014

Vanessa with Kittens,'09

Pigs Feet, '93

Measuring Space and Giving Recognition

Advocate and push yourself, measuring and expanding your inner acceptance of all humanity. This defines you, and more importantly, helps some unrecognized people to have a better place in this world. By simply being present with, acknowledging equally, and sharing, we create and define better living for each other.

                                                                                                     Shelby Lee Adams

Lincoln, Maw and Shorty, '92

James and Clapper, '06

Chester with Hounds, '92

Homemade sign

Children with Blind Horse, '08

Virgil and Daughter,'92

Sherman with Hog's Head, '92

"We enjoy having you here and having things done we never had before. Ain’t no way we see it any other way, we see it only in a good way. If anything, your pictures help, more than anything. You let the people have the books and they enjoy seeing thereselves in the books and what you write up. They always somebody that’s goin' to be against you in everything, don’t care what you do. Your work is original. It’s real life and it’s the way we live. People away from here, they got all they need in life, they got new homes, new cars. They don’t know what it is to live a poor person’s life. People enjoys livin' from day to day, makin' it on their own, not out here crookin' somebody or stealin' something to make it; just makin' it, surviving on their own. That’s the way Kentucky people are. We just enjoy doin it, because it’s everyday things. If I go out here today and make enough to survive to the next day, I’m tickled to death. Long as I’ve got dinner on the table for my family. If I tell a man something, I tell the truth. I don’t lie."

Sherman Jacobs
October '07

Sherman, '08

Wade, '05

Paul with Rabbit, '06

Eric with Spike the Rooster, '99

Angelia with Banty Rooster, '03

Gobel with Puppy, '83

Brice and Crow on Porch, '92 [with Puppies]

Cody and Tank, '04

Billy and Bethany with Coon Skins, '04

4x5 Polaroids shared with family showing some of the compositions made before film was exposed.


The Holiness Portfolio

And these signs shall follow them that believe; in
My name shall they cast out devils; they shall take up serpents;
and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt
them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Mark 16: 17—18
King James Version of the Holy Bible

Lloyd Collins, left, holding two rattlesnakes, demonstrating his faith.
[Amateur's photo given to photographer by minister.]

When I first visited a serpent-handling church in 1983, I was invited by its preacher, Lloyd Collins, who pastored this rural church in our home county, Letcher Co. Lloyd was around 63 years of age then, a simple, humble country man in appearance. He stood about five feet six inches tall, clean-shaven, a bit potbellied, with silver-grey hair and bright blue eyes. He had been practicing this religion for over 50 years when we met. He was my introduction to this amazing and powerful religion. A religion I totally respect, that requires a complete giving of one's self to practice this faith.

Snake Hunter, 1983

Verlin's First Serpent Handling Experience, 1983
[Verlin is handling two copperheads in photo above, his parents are watching and praying in background.]

The process of surrender to what "is'' acknowledges that the ego is not controlling events, and thus frees us from bondage to the priorities of the ego. The mountain serpent handlers I knew surrendered themselves to the [anointing] spirit of the Holy Ghost, overcoming personal ego and as they believe, letting the Lord do his work. This religion demonstrates a belief in interconnectedness to greater powers than ourselves.

Hort's Church Sign 

Surrender to what "is" means that we trust the way life unfolds because events are not meaningless or the result of chance, and they depend on the larger Intelligence rather than on what we decide to do. They believe God speaks to you personally and you are gifted to practice the signs, anointed and blessed by the Holy Spirit to demonstrate to the world, these signs given. 

The Blind Serpent Handler, '87

We cannot be separated from Nature as a whole because we are Nature, manifest in the form of people.

Wayne and Joe Serpent Handling, 1987

Gracie Serpent Handling, '86

"The spirit is something you can't hardly explain. The feeling of the spirit of the Lord can't be explained without you having the spirit in your soul. It is a good feeling - it's a feeling too good to explain! Just like in heaven, you can't even wash the spirit of the Lord out of your hands. The spirit is something great. I've had the spirit in my arms, in my whole body. I've had it so much, I feel so weak I could fall out. I have to sit down sometimes. I feel so weak in the Lord- I'm in the spirit! If you understand the spirit of the Lord, it's not weakness or sickness but meekness in the spirit."

Gracie Holland, Happy, Kentucky

Gracie Serpent Handling, '87
[Two Timber Rattlesnakes]

Student- Marc Culp's photograph taken during the making of
"Gracie Serpent Handling," 1986

Holiness Hands with Serpent and Bible, 1987
[Hands of Ray, Gracie's husband.]

Holiness Man and Family, Jolo, West VA. 1987

 As mysterium, the numinous is "wholly other"-- entirely different from anything we experience in ordinary life. It evokes a reaction of silence. But the numinous is also a mysterium tremendum. It provokes terror because it presents itself as overwhelming power. Finally, the numinous presents itself as fascinates, as merciful and gracious. 
— Rudolf Otto

Holiness Boy with Serpent Box and Poison Jar, '87

Without a surrender of attitude, the body is always sensing danger. Properly understood these pictures represent a life and religion connected to a universal trust in God. Being blessed to practice this ritual for no matter how brief a time is a moment you never forget, humbling the participant, knowing and experiencing a part of our universal connectedness.

Serpent Box, 1986

In making this portfolio I believe I was photographing people who could enter into a truly natural altered state of multi-dimensions, the serpent handlers would say, they were in the spirit received from God, the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. One can handle serpents and practice the signs of serpent handling in many different ways, as well if called, handle fire, drink the deadly poisons, speak in the unknown tongue [a universal religious language], heal the sick, prophesy and cast out demons.

 Serpent handling is probably the most known sign or gift. On faith alone one can handle serpents, but that is dangerous unless one is living totally committed to the doctrines of the church. Also, if one stands between two brothers in the spirit that are anointed, members believe they can pass a venomous serpent to a non-member and no harm shall come. One still has to believe and have positive faith.  I have been touched by this experience and the energy created and released is indescribable, multidimensional, and profoundly moving. Something that stays with you for the rest of your life. They also believe that you can be bitten and you suffer the bite. So many times I have seen this happen with no consequence and I have seen the deep suffering caused by the venom.    

Brother Shell Fire-handling, 1987

When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned,
neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
Isaiah 4  3:2

Sister Bobby Handling Cobra, 1986
[Photo given to photographer by a church member.] 

Church Sign

Shelby Handling Rattlesnake, 1986
[photographer Dewey Chapin]

Related Books:
The Cult of the Serpent, Balaji Mundkur, State University of New York Press, 1983; Taking Up Serpents, Snake Handlers of Eastern Kentucky, David L. Kimbrough, The University Press of North Carolina, 1995; Thou Art That and Myths of Light, Joseph Campbell, New World Library, 2003; Salvation on Sand Mountain, Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, Addison—Wesley Publishing, 1995; Psyche and Sacred, Spirituality beyond Religion, Lionel Corbett, Spring Journal Books, 2007.

For those interested in demystifying and understanding this religion, what some call a stereotype. Learn about this incredible religion who's members practice very devout and deeply rooted mountain cultural rituals. My experiences were from 1983 - 1994.


Carrie LeeAnne, '03

Donnie with Baby and Cows, '99

Nancy with Parakeets,  '04

Tyler and Sheba, '01

Sheba Asleep, 07

Shithead the Pony with the Noble Family, '03

Larry in Garage, '04

Bert with Guitar, '92 [cat and dog]

Jane with Diddles, '94

The Cock Fighter, '89

Lila and the Goose, '03

Enos holding Snapping Turtles, '07

Tammy with Catfish, '03

Larry with Goat, '05

Eagle's Nest, '04

Freddie with 38-Year-Old Retired Mule, '05

Anne with Pigeon, '95

Reed with Pony and Chicken, '95

Peggy and Albert, '99

Aunt Glade with Tom, '73

Knives, 1997

Grandpa's Last Hog Killing, '73

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All photographs and text copyrighted - © 1993-2014 Shelby Lee Adams, legal action will be taken to represent the photographer, the work taken out of context, subjects and integrity of all photographic and written works, including additional photographers published and authors quoted. Permissions - send e mail request with project descriptions.