The photograph above was taken by Lauren Pond, a photojournalist. It depicts Randy Wolford, an evangelical pastor who handles venomous snakes as part of his ministry, dying from a bite he received earlier that day. In a moving and thought-provoking essay, Ms. Pond explains why he declined medical attention – and why she kept shooting.
his is what I saw through my camera lens: Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford, tossing and turning on the couch in his mother-in-law’s West Virginia trailer, suffering from the pain of a rattlesnake bite he had received earlier in the day. Parishioners surrounding him in prayer in the stifling heat. His mother stroking his feet, her expression a mixture of concern, sorrow and, eventually, acceptance: This is how her eldest son — a legend in the local Pentecostal serpent-handling community — would die.
Camera in hand, I watched as the man I’d photographed and gotten to know over the past year writhed, turned pale and slipped away, a victim of his unwavering faith, but also a testament to it. A family member called paramedics when Mack finally allowed it, but it was too late. Mack Wolford drew his final, labored breaths late Sunday night. He was 44.
The scene has been playing over and over in my head since then, and the questions are weighing on me: As a photojournalist, what role did I have in this tragedy, and what is it now, in the aftermath? Was it right for me to remain in the background taking pictures, as I did, and not seek medical attention for the dying pastor, whose beliefs forbade it? Or should I have intervened and called paramedics earlier, which would have undermined Mack’s wishes? Finally, what was I supposed to do with the images I shot?
Why I Watched a Snake-Handling Pastor Die for his Faith [WashingtonPost]