Rick Cary: Credo

The Abrons Arts Center is proud to present the photography exhibit Credo, by artist Rick Cary, in the Charles E. Culpeper Gallery. The photographs in Credo document moments in the religious lives of a small Pentecostal congregation and their pastor Reverend Jimmy Morrow at the Church of God in Jesus’ Name Only in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The congregants practice Signs Following, the handling of serpents, based on New Testament scripture from Mark 16:17-18:

And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 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.

Cary’s photographs convey the experiences of Signs Followers who live committed to their religious traditions and steeped in a rich, yet dwindling, culture in the southern Appalachian Highlands. He never orchestrates the activities of his subjects, and is present among them with their consent.

Worship services at the church are characterized by expressionistic preaching by Reverend Morrow and the congregants, ecstatic dancing, the healing “laying on of hands,” and the practice most distinctive of these believers, the handling of venomous copperheads and rattlesnakes caught near the church. Serpents are taken up only under certain conditions — the handler must have entered an ecstatic state called “anointment.” The act of handling serpents is not viewed as a test of faith or of God’s grace, but rather as a willingness to place one’s life in God’s hands according to the literal interpretation of God’s Word. Although serpent handlers often say, “God gave us victory over serpents,” they are very much aware that a bite from the poisonous snake is not only possible, but potentially fatal.

The artist’s goal of capturing, in the authentic moment, the immediacy of the people’s lived realities supersedes the imperative to conventionally compose and aestheticize. Representing subjects who have been portrayed by media as demented, dangerous zealots,Credo eschews any notion of sensationalism. Although they are subjective reflections of finite moments, the photos may serve as texts that embody universal human experiences, or least fragments of them. Contributions by author Ralph W. Hood, PhD.

The documentary film Holy Ghost People (1967, Dir. Peter Adair) will be screened at the Abrons Arts Center in conjunction with Credo on Wednesday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m. The film depicts a Pentecostal community practicing Signs Following at a church service in Scrabble Creek, West Virginia.

Credo is curated by Jonathan Durham.