The striking photograph depicts Santa Claus clutching a shovel with one of his white-gloved hands.
He is standing in Mexico, in a pool of mud near some tire tracks, sizing up a towering fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“There will be walls,” a caption reads. “Let’s get to work.”
It’s New York photographer Gary He’s latest work, following a divisive election and debate over President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to build a border wall and deport undocumented immigrants.
In the picture, He, a 32-year-old photographer from Brooklyn, poses as Saint Nicholas — an outsider gazing over the wall, to the United States.
For He, it’s a Christmas tradition — photographing himself in wintry scenes for family and friends.
Usually, his annual Christmas picture is whimsical; this year, he took a more serious and somber tone.
“I feel like it was a very weird year,” He told The Washington Post. “The idea was to do something politics-related because so much of the year was dominated by politics. The obvious idea was to do something related to the wall.”
The image, He added, is about “hope, hard work and determination, not despair. It’s really about getting your hands dirty and overcoming obstacles.”
He, director of operations at New York-based Insider Images, is an independent photographer, mostly focusing on corporate and commercial work, he said.
On its website, Insider Images boasts that it has “worked with some of the biggest companies and brands in the world.” His LinkedIn page shows that he has shot for Reuters and the Associated Press over the years.
He still does freelance photojournalism, too, and said in an email that his editorial photography these days “mostly” focuses on “large projects that are siloed away from anything involving my corporate clients.”
Then there are his personal projects.
He has been shooting his own, elaborate Christmas cards for more than a decade. In 2012, he photographed himself as 13 different family members in a scene reminiscent of a Tommy Hilfiger advertisement.
Last year, he traveled to Tunisia, where “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was filmed, and “did something with lightsabers and Santa hats.”
He said that each December, when he sends out his Christmas cards, “all I hope is that people get a chuckle out of them.”
On Dec. 3, He and a friend traveled to Mexico and drove along the border fence until they found a quiet spot, not far from El Paso.
It had rained that day, and in full Santa gear, He stood in fresh sludge across the border, under an eerie, dark blue sky.
“The pouring rain created a post-apocalyptic feeling to the image,” He said, adding that some of his friends in New York told him they appreciated the unintended humor.
During the presidential campaign, Trump proposed building a massive wall along the 2,000-mile border, at Mexico’s expense — an effort to keep out undocumented immigrants, terrorists and illegal drugs.
The idea became a focal point at his rallies, with supporters chanting “Build that wall!”
Trump has remained resolute in his plan.
He, the photographer, said he did not intend to make a political statement.
“I’m not trying to offend the political system,” he said.
But he wants people to come up with their own interpretations of his picture.
He wrote Dec. 7 on Twitter that he was “currently handwriting greetings in 350 holiday cards. Can’t wait to get it out there — this year’s image is very good, better than 2015.”
He later posted it on Instagram, writing: “My 2016 holiday card, created at the border wall near El Paso, TX. Choose your own metaphor.”
— Hope King (@lisahopeking) December 13, 2016
He said there is “always going to be the occasional person on the Internet who hates Christmas and decides to troll, but the reaction has thus far been very positive.”
“People have told me it’s the right image for the year we’ve had,” He said. “I appreciate that. You try to speak to people through your work and when it elicits that kind of reaction that — ‘This is how I feel’ — you feel like you’ve done a good job.”