It was like the single solitary plant found by Wall-E in the midst of the post-apocalyptic wasteland of his eponymous film. It was something beautiful growing in the midst of chaos and ugliness.
It was also a perfect photograph: framed by a blurry police officer in the foreground and the smoke and crowds in the background, there, in the midst of a riot, a couple kissing in the middle of a Vancouver street, practically glowing in the illumination of street lights.
With the 2011 Stanley Cup riot making international news, it was destiny that this unlikely juxtaposition of romance and riot would go viral.Embed from Getty Images
Ten years later, the couple in the photograph are still together. Scott Jones and Alex Thomas are now married with a young child and living in Fremantle, Australia. They have a framed copy of the photograph, signed by photographer Rich Lam, in Jones’s craft beer pub, as well as in their home.
The couple was at a friend’s house in downtown Vancouver to watch Game 7 and got caught in the crowd as they tried to get home. As riot police herded crowds down the street, Thomas was knocked to the ground by an officer’s shield.
“It was a very intense situation. We’d been knocked down by the police, they were hitting us trying to move us on and then eventually they did move on,” said Jones to Global News. “But I didn’t really think about it, I just kissed her to calm her down.”
Lam has covered hundreds of Vancouver Canucks games for Getty Images and was on hand for Game 7. As a result, he was right in the thick of things as he left Rogers Arena. He ended up in the right place at the right time to see the couple alone in the street. From there, his years of experience as a photographer kicked in.
"In this town, anything like this happens and the next day the story would always be about police brutality. So that's when I kind of stepped in and put the cop into the photo," said Lam to ESPN. "Here's one person comforting another person that got injured. And here's a cop. You make the association. That was my initial theory on the picture."
At first, the photo going viral was a little unnerving for Jones and Thomas. Eventually they connected with Lam, who gave them some media tips. They did a few interviews at the time to get their side of the story out and to quiet some of the uglier rumours that became attached to the photo. Then they moved to Australia and moved on with their lives.
"We've put in a lot of work building our lives together since then. It's just a piece of the backstory," said Thomas to ESPN. "We didn't know what 'going viral' meant or anything like that. It was a bit weird having people interested in it."
These days, the photo only rarely comes up, except on an anniversary like this one.
“It’s not something you can really just bring up in conversation,” said Thomas to CBC News. “Unless the topic turns to ice hockey, which, in Australia, it doesn’t very often.”