Symbolism Happens: The Story of an Accidental Family Masterpiece

This is the brief story of a family vacation photo which went from just another average beach shot, to a filter-powered dramatic epic, to a treasured family vinyl printing hanging on a wall, hung front and center with pride, and the symbolism that happens when you least expect it.

Firstly, here’s the photo in question after all enhancements. Click for the full size version.

Titled Ezri by the Sea


The photo was taken on September 9, 2012, during a family outing to the beach on Prince Edward Island. The photo captures the moment Ezri, my niece, crests a hill that reveals the beach, ocean, and sky beyond, and stands, taking it all in, as her family sets up down below, and as her father takes the photo some ways behind.

The original photo, taken on a dSLR, was washed out and unframed. A few filters and borders later, the final picture made its dramatic pose.

The last step, years later, was to acquire a epic-size vinyl printing of the digital photo.

Some Teasing Artistic Rhetoric

The following tongue-in-cheek assessments of the photo’s artistic merit were made on Thanksgiving 2021 as I was encouraging my niece and nephew, Noah, about placing symbolic and figurative elements in their artwork, which they were showing us, to communicate a message beyond the simple immediate image.

See, here, the horizon, the meeting place of Heaven and Earth.

The hills on either side represent the pillars of the gates to Heaven.

And who may enter but the innocent child?

The perfect family awaiting the newest and preparing for their homecoming.

And the Father, always at our back and overseeing it all, saying, “It was very good.”

My sister, of course, incredulous, asked if that’s what I really saw in the photo. As I was just trying to be overly dramatic, I said I just made that up all on the spot. Typical family humor, of course.

And, to be completely honest, the last two lines I thought up on the drive home to flesh out the drama and symbolism and to make for a suitably fluffed up blog post…

Symbolism Happens

So, is there artistic merit here? Did I really just make up some nonsense interpretation of what is simply a snapshot of an ordinary day with no possible ability to represent anything figurative?

Yes. But also no. Probably mostly yes. But still…

Symbolism happens because of universal patterns we live out, observe, manifest, inhabit, mirror, and have mirrored back to us by new interpretation. These symbols become part of our inner selves. We see them in nature, internally re-frame them, and nature displays them back to us anew. We process them within and create art out of them again.

As the horizon of sky and ground presents a barrier we can not cross without sufficient device, so too do we live with the barrier between heaven and earth, the ideal and the actual. We can’t seem to grasp our reach.

The hills on either side form a path we must follow to the meeting of heaven and earth – a way which prevents access from other directions – a gate through which we can pass if we choose, but we must pass through the gate and no other.

The child knows none of this, and approaches as a child would, bewildered yet blissfully undeterred by the glory only visible to those of us of a certain number of weathered days and wounded experience.

What is it that awaits when we “change and become like little children”? What if not the perfect, united, and hale family, our Heavenly Family, already preparing the celebration of our arrival?

And He Who sees it all, always at our back, encouraging us onward, accompanying our walk home, and giving his praise, His plan all along, “and, indeed, it was very good.”

In The End

What then is left when all kidding and grossly over-analyzed pattern is put aside?

Only the joy that comes from a happy accident of serendipity, the presumptuous hand of the artist, and the framing of a moment that shouldn’t be anything special at all, but is for exactly all of that, special, because it was ours, our accidental family masterpiece.

Misericordia, Soli Deo Gloria

2 thoughts on “Symbolism Happens: The Story of an Accidental Family Masterpiece”

  1. Gorgeous Photo Matt ! Your analysis is ( I am sure you know ), far too brief. What about the clouds? ( beginning to pile up to a storm, or just another sunny day ) What about the sea? ( calm now but promising change and showing depth)
    This was taken on federal land that is currently being contested by the local First Nations Miꞌkmaq ( pronounced Mikmaw)
    The environment ? ( the beach is very clean)
    What about the footprints on the beach leading off to the left and away from family ??
    One could go on forever !

    1. Haha great stuff. I kept thinking of more after I wrote it, too. I told Megan and Andy everytime I go over to their place it makes me proud to see it put up on the wall.

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