June 16, 2011

The Riot Kiss

The Vancouver “riot kiss” photo brings up two questions. What’s happening in the photo? And, why is it having the impact?

Looking at several comments on (Bag consultant and R.I.T. Professor of Photojournalism and Documentary Photography) Loret Steinberg’s Facebook page — “Eroticism of violence?” “Drunken debauchery and insanity of hormones…” “Some sort of performance piece.” “In the face of violence, passion and eroticism are deeply intertwined” — most see this as an amorous (or mock-amorous moment), albeit a pretty twisted one. Lam’s caption doesn’t help, solidifying the assessment of passion. It reads:

Riot police walk the street as a couple kiss on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver, as the city broke out in riots, following the Vancouver Canucks loss in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals.

I’m more inclined toward Loret’s skepticism, however, drawing especially on the second photo that is circulating.

She writes:

So I’m looking more closely at the photograph from above and realize it doesn’t show anything about the first shot being set up. (Getty photographer) Rich Lam thought there had been an injury. This image could have been made immediately after Lam’s. Of course we won’t know for some time but now it also looks like there’s more to discuss about quick assumptions, speed of short comments on the internet and distrusting images. The “kiss” may not be a kiss — the woman’s face is to the side. I had read it out of body language originally…. If only we could hear from the couple too.

It would be one thing if Lam had more feedback than what his camera and a quick glance had to say, but the distance and the fleeting moment renders Lam not very helpful beyond his sense this wasn’t staged.

I’m confident this wasn’t staged (for the same reasons Lam gives) and I’m confident it wasn’t amorous, either. Here at the Bag, we’ve looked at dozens of photos that yielded one (completely wrong) conclusion based on one scene from one angle in one instant in time. We saw it years back with Ed Klein’s slanderous appropriation of an AP photograph making it seems like Bill Clinton was stealing a kiss at a massive “Kerry for President” rally. And this is Obama ogling a young woman at a G-8 summit, right?  Yeah, until you see the video.

So, I’m going with the “kids drunk, girlfriend falls, skirt flies up, boyfriend immediately lifts her back up (cuz hey, there is an edgy cop on horseback some feet away, and not to mention, all hell is breaking loose”) — that with a  “Getty photog situated just so” chaser.

But then, the more fascinating question is: why is the photo lighting up the internets?

As just one example, I liked this comment posted by one “Winston Churchill” attached to the Globe and Mail story. It reads:

Sailor kisses a nurse after four years (they are Americans) of total war. Millions killed. Glad to be alive. Two drunken teenagers are so far gone with booze after a lost game that they play grab @ss in the street, during a riot. Six of one, half a dozen of the other right?

I wouldn’t have posted this photo if I didn’t think it was important as a reflection back on us. I mean, a fall in a riot and a completely paradoxical composition, and we’ve got the stimulus for rethinking contemporary culture, including the role of sex, love, post-industrialism, consumer capitalism, nihilism, sports obsession and civic identification, either singularly or in any combination. Call it staged. Call it benign. More than anything, though, I would call it a mirror.

UPDATE:  Now that the couple has been located and we’ve got an explanation, I’d say the take above is pretty solid, that the girl was knocked to the ground by a riot cop, slightly injured, and the boyfriend responded to get her out of what he communicated to his mother was a traumatic situation. To the extent Scott also gave Alex a quick kiss, the new photo that turns up in the Globe and Mail article showing him pulled away from his girlfriend, now hyper-alert and looking around, gives us a more context as to just how instantaneously this happening, conforming even more to the aerial shot which speaks more outright to trauma, speed, minor injury and chaos. In any case, it was no make out session and the moment (although frozen in time forever for the rest of us) certainly didn’t involve lingering.

UPDATE 2: If Scott’s mother’s comments still sound a bit romantic (that’s my boy!), the account of this eyewitness who was watching from a roof more solidly emphasize the chaos, violence and realtime speed of what happened to and with the couple.

UPDATE 3: Well, it seems a video has finally emerged which not only captures the couple, but also the fact Alex was injured and the situation was hellish.

Certainly, she wasn’t in any state to be amorous and Scott was more concerned, naturally, about protecting their immediate safety.  Video via Digby.

(photo 2: unattributed)

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

The Big Picture

Follow us on Instagram (@readingthepictures) and Twitter (@readingthepix), and


A curated collection of pieces related to our most-popular subject matter.


Comments Powered by Disqus