Although sports photographer Rich Lam was assigned just to shoot the 2011 Stanley Cup final game inside Rogers Arena, he ended up on the streets of Vancouver shooting pictures of a riot — including an unforgettable photo of a couple kissing in the midst of the mayhem.

Lam says that when the Boston Bruins’ third unanswered goal went into the Canucks’ net, he joked to himself that, ‘Uh-oh, there's going to be trouble in the streets.’

Lam soon learned that he’d been picking up on something.

"Sure enough, a couple seconds later another colleague got an email from a reporter that there were cars on fire outside the post office. I was like, ‘Whoops, I kind of forecasted the future,’" he said.

Lam said it seemed surreal to be waiting for the winning coach to speak while riot images played out on the screens overhead.

"You're sort of stuck in a bubble. But right outside, less than 100 metres away, they are burning the street up."

Although Lam mostly shoots sports now, his background is in news and he admits, he was excited to head out into the action.

Once outside, he walked up West Georgia Street towards The Bay department store.

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"Three cars were on fire. Someone was standing on an awning throwing things down. People are still trying to break windows. At one point, it looked like clowns coming out of a Mini with the number of people jumping out of The Bay windows," Lam recalled.

The riot squad was soon on the scene. Unable to get behind the police line, Lam said he began to get pushed up Georgia Street along with the crowd.

"[Riot squad officers] made a charge ... and I'd equate it to the running of the bulls. They came at us and we just ran and tried not to get whacked."

Spontaneous photo

As Lam was catching his breath after one of the police rushes, he looked up the street and saw two people lying down in the road.

He quickly framed up the shot, focused, snapped it and moved on. It was only later he saw what he captured — a young man comforting his traumatized girlfriend with a kiss.

The photo went viral worldwide, which still boggles Lam's mind.

"For me, it's just a picture among thousands I've taken."

In fact, Lam said that when he thinks back on the riot, it's not the kissing couple that sticks in his mind, but one particular looter.

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Lam thought his series of photos of a looter at The Bay was more compelling than the kiss. (Rich Lam)

"He calmly walked up to the Bay, flipped up his hoodie, walked into the store [through a broken window]

and less than five minutes later came back out with two handbags. And just walked. Not running, just calmly walked out like he was going shopping."

But Lam knows it's the kissing couple’s tender moment amidst the chaos that will be most remembered, and he’s okay with that

"Hopefully, one day, my son will look at it and say, ‘Hey, that's my dad's picture.’"

 

With files from the CBC's Leah Hendry