Glue for the shattered pieces

The amateur photographer in me saw Rich Lam’s photograph of the kissing couple in the middle of Vancouver’s June 15, 2011, riot and thought, “Wow, lucky guy. What an incredible catch.”

I was considering the photographer lucky, not the boyfriend.

Canadian Alexandra Thomas and Australian Scott Jones have become media darlings as a result of the photograph. By now everyone reading this may be familiar with the scene that may join the body of photographs so famous they are part of our cultural landscape. What each of photograph has in common is the way each encapsulates a larger story important to the time.

The Vietnamese girl, naked and crying, victim of a napalm attack; the horrified Kent State woman kneeling beside a student killed by the police; the migrant mother, her face desperate, children clinging to her. These and many other photographs are markers, capturing the essence of some event or era that cries out for reflection and response.

Lam’s photograph focuses on a moment of tenderness in the middle of fear and chaos. The riot was deeply troubling for Vancouverites, who only months before were proud of their city’s warm welcome to visiting Olympics fans. The post-game melee in June was entirely too reminiscent of a similar incident in 1994. Both riots occurred after a Vancouver team lost the Stanley Cup. The second mirrored the first: huge crowds of peaceful revelers; hooligans equipped to set fires, smash windows, and loot stores; a handful of bystanders brave enough to defy the vandals; outnumbered police uncertain what to do and sometimes making things worse.

The people in this footage are fleeing the police. They are not setting fires, not smashing windows, not looting. Alexandra and Scott are singled out from the crowd only because she trips, and he falls with her. Several shield-toting officers cluster menacingly before running off. She is sobbing.

Scott’s tender response to his girlfriend’s panic creates an island of calm. The space that clears around them takes on a symbolism beyond a simple, loving gesture. It becomes a tiny flame of hope in the center of a fearsome conflagration.

Unlike the staged photograph of the sailor kissing the nurse on the day in 1945 when the war with Japan ended, Rich Lam’s photograph is a sweet, unposed moment of reassurance. And somehow that reassurance reaches out from the photograph and eases some of the anger and disappointment that washed over the city in the wake of the riot. It’s a reminder that whatever craziness our species engages in, compassion is still the glue that holds the shattered pieces together.

NB: Blogger Jesse Mendes posted her response to the photograph (The Kissing Couple As Muse) and challenged other bloggers to write about their personal responses. For her, “this image resonates as a powerful reminder of what continues to grow in me as I age. For all our woes about getting older, it seems to me that the process brings with it a new found capacity for the paradoxical; an ability to embrace beauty in what is not pretty.”

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2 comments for “Glue for the shattered pieces

  1. June 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Cathryn, this is a beautifully written piece. Thank you for mentioning my blog post, and thank you for going to the trouble of collecting these other images in a poignant comparison of images, as you put it, that cry out for reflection and response. You write so beautifully. Thank you for sharing your insights, and especially, for finding this video to share with us all, I had not seen it.

    I don’t know why, but I think it is so important for all of us to spend some time with this image, especially in this day and age. I hope other bloggers will post their own reflections, and if they do, I would love to hear from them — I will tweet the links on Twitter.

    Jesse

  2. June 27, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    I appreciated the challenge, Jesse. When something resonates with so many people, it deserves examining. Thank you for your thoughtful and beautifully articulated post and for nudging others to think about what the image means to them.

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