Love, PR, and other catastrophes
Last week The Punch posted a piece on a fantastic news picture of a couple kissing amid a riot. Then the proverbial hit the fan, with all sorts of rumours - including a suggestion it was the scene of a sexual assault - so we closed the piece until we could work out what was going on. Well now we know (sort of) and the piece is open again, here. And here’s a great look at the situation from a new contributor, Jen Vuk.
Against the tarnished backdrop of the escalating violence in Vancouver last week a startling image of a couple lying on a littered and damaged street and seemingly lost in their own tantric moment caused a meltdown of the most spurious kind.
Within hours of going online the image not only went viral, but had its own Twitter account and its first photo-shopped meme showing the couple on a freeway. While the riot, caused by the city’s hockey team’s championship loss, which left 150 people injured, property and shops destroyed and led to almost 100 arrests had but all been forgotten, our curiosity in the then mystery duo seemed to grow by the nanosecond.
Alas, as it turned out, there wasn’t anything vaguely prurient about the “kissing couple” as the pair glibly became known.
For us Aussies there was the added bonus of the comfortingly parochial. Perth-born Scott Jones and his Canadian girlfriend Alex Thomas had found themselves caught between police and the rioters. Thomas had fallen to the ground after being struck by a police shield.
As Jones told Channel Nine: “I went back for her, they kept hitting us with shields, I was talking to her, just trying to calm her down, kissing…helps to calm her as well”.
It was at that moment that freelance photojournalist Richard Lam, who, understandably, was more concerned with trying to save his own tail than getting the perfect shot, turned back, aimed and clicked. In the wake of the international juggernaut that was SlutWalk, we now had a sexy act of rebellion that didn’t so much give violence the finger as knock the wind right out of it.
Or did we? Only once the mystery of the couple’s identities was solved did the conspiracy theories really go into freefall.
Days after the incident, Facebook and Twitter began to buzz with talk of a similar shot taken in Lyon, France, last October by Reuters photographer Gonzalo Fuentes. And while the similarities are startling—two people making out on a road and shadowed by riot police—on closer inspection the French image has none of the immediacy, the impact or, even, the idiocy of Lam’s shot.
But the damage was done. Never mind that Jones and Thomas apparently turned down lucrative deals to appear on The Today Show and Good Morning America for nothing more mercenary than a booked holiday, the couple, who’ll arrive in Australia next month, went on to sign a deal with go-to agent Max Markson.
Twenty-nine-year-old Jones has since made no secret of his comic aspirations, and we all know what that means. Yep, he needs every break he can get. Don’t even mention the word ‘material’. But here’s the thing. When the wolves come knocking at your door then it’s probably wise to give a wily old sheep dog a bone. (With apologies to MM.)
Oh, but how we felt let down. Deflated. Duped. Cue unified and vigorous pressing down on our CDBs (cynical default button). Despite the promise of hard evidence fading faster than an old Polaroid, here was our proof that the pair was suss. Only one small step, we reasoned, from being a sell out to out-and-out charlatans.
Suddenly the “greatest photo… perhaps ever” with its fragility and tenderness was nothing more than a beautifully framed reminder of our own gullibility.
It begs the question, though. Does it really matter whether or not it was a stunt? Even Robert Doisneau’s iconic 1950 photo for Life magazine, Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville, was staged. Heck, blame the light, but when Doisneau saw a golden opportunity he asked the couple to - sacre bleu! - smooch again for the camera.
When his cunning plan was revealed in the early 1990s did it take away from the photo’s artistic merit? Hmm…perhaps, a little. But did it stop new generations of art students from swooning and fantasising about their very own café-au-lait drinking, Gitane-smoking French lover? Of course not.
So what if we mistook a staged shot for something unrehearsed and impetuous? At least it had us sit up and take notice, didn’t it? For one delectable moment we were beguiled by a snapshot of chivalry; of a boyfriend offering solace to his injured girlfriend. A man in touch with his softer side in the midst of chaos.
It might have been rigged, but tell me, please, why must it now feel so wrong?
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