In Photography, It’s Never About “One Thing”

The movie “City Slickers” is a 1991 comedy film directed by Ron Underwood. The story follows three friends from New York City who embark on a cattle-driving vacation in the American Southwest as a way to escape the pressures and monotony of their daily lives.

In the film, the character Curly, played by Jack Palance, serves as a wise and grizzled cowboy who becomes a mentor to the main character, Mitch Robbins, played by Billy Crystal. Curly is known for his tough exterior and rugged cowboy lifestyle. Throughout the movie, he imparts various words of wisdom to Mitch and his friends, including the concept of “One Thing.”

The “One Thing” speech delivered by Curly has become one of the most memorable moments in the film. Curly explains to Mitch that in life, each person must figure out their “One Thing” – the singular purpose or passion that gives their life meaning. He emphasizes the importance of finding that one thing and holding onto it, as it serves as a guiding principle for happiness and fulfillment.

While “One Thing” dialogue and narrative maybe work in cinema, it doesn’t work quite so well in photography.
As a photographer, I have come to appreciate the multifaceted nature of the art form, where the remarkable and memorable aspects of a photograph, often stem from the combination and integration of various elements working, together, in harmony. In contrast to the concept of “One Thing” portrayed in the movie “City Slickers,” photography thrives on the interplay and assimilation of different factors.

Renowned photographer Dorothea Lange once stated, “Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” This quote speaks to the power of freezing a moment in time, but it also implies that the essence of a photograph lies in capturing the intricacies of that moment—combining elements such as composition, lighting, subject matter, and storytelling.

Ansel Adams, renowned for his awe-inspiring landscapes, emphasized the importance of the photographer’s vision and technical mastery. He famously said, “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” This quote underscores the role of personal interpretation and emotional connection in creating impactful images. It highlights how the photographer’s unique perspective, creative choices, and technical skills converge to communicate a profound message.

In my own photographic journey, I’ve realized that my personal aesthetics are deeply influenced and driven by a combination of factors, such as light, color, design, and subject matter. It’s the mingling and fusing of these elements that allow me to create photographic magic.

Yesterday, I woke up at 3:30 am, to drive for an hour from Yarmouth, and capture the sunrise in Provincetown. However, upon arriving, I found the scene enveloped in thick fog and cloud cover. Despite the absence of the type of light and color I usually seek, I decided to shoot anyway. Surprisingly, this quick series of photographs I captured, on my iPhone 14 Pro Max, in the span of 15 to 20 minutes, turned out to be pleasantly remarkable.

As I reflected on this experience, and with “Curly” in my head, I realized that, for me, on this Sunday morning, in this particular situation, it wasn’t about “One Thing.” It was about the poetic and technical synthesis of lots of different and divergent factors-exposure, composition, subject matter, my mental frame of mind, motivation, inspiration, instinct, impulse, intuition, bracketing, self-identity, and the intentionality behind my actions, even when I didn’t feel like it.

Photography, in its essence, is a complex interplay of various elements, where the magic lies in the fusion and balance of these components. It’s never about relying on a single aspect but rather the culmination of technology, technique, talent, tools, temperament, taste, and timing. Each of these factors contributes to the creation of extraordinary photographs, making photography a captivating and multifaceted art form that goes beyond the notion of “One Thing.”

This understanding challenges the notion of “One Thing” and emphasizes the multifaceted nature of photography as a collaborative dance between various elements, resulting in captivating and meaningful imagery.



Jack Hollingsworth