This is what Lauren Pond saw through a 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. There were 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.
Photographer Lauren Pond says the scene has been playing over and over in her head since then, and the questions continue: As a photojournalist, what role did she have in this tragedy, and what is it now, in the aftermath? Was it right for her to remain in the background taking pictures, and not seek medical attention for the dying pastor, whose beliefs forbade it? Or should she have intervened and called paramedics earlier, which would have undermined the pastor’s wishes? Finally, what was she supposed to do with the images she shot?