Stuff Happens: The Far from Humdrum Life of a Photojournalist by Tor Eigeland

Publisher: Brown Dog Books Publication Date: 2022

Executive Editor of the National Geographic Dennis Dimick states in the foreword of Tor Eigeland’s memoir ‘Stuff Happens: The Far from Humdrum Life of a Photojournalist’ that ‘Tor had seen places and events I’d experienced vicariously through National Geographic and Life magazines as a youth.’ This resonated with me whilst reading through the pages of this book; it felt you were travelling the world from your armchair. The reading experience of ‘Stuff Happens’ was slow and immersive. I found I spent just as much time staring at the photographs as I did reading the text, they themselves worked to tell their own narrative, which is clearly testament to Tor Eigeland’s ability to capture such unique moments.

Tor Eigeland’s book documents his life and travels around the globe. He is a world-renowned photojournalist working with various publications such as National Geographic, Time Life and multiple foreign publications. The hardback edition is filled with glorious images from around the world, capturing pinnacle moments from political history, jubilant celebrations, ceremonies, exotic landscapes but also the nuances and complexities of humanity.

The insatiable desire to travel started very young as Tor describes, ‘devouring travel adventure books by writers such as John Steinbeck, Samuel Johnson and Joseph Conrad.’ I marvelled at the bravery of someone so young daring to leave a comfortable Norwegian home and travel to the far reaches of the earth. Having just finished reading Julian Sancton’s ‘Madhouse at the End of the Earth,’ a non-fiction account about the Belgica’s treacherous expedition to the South Pole I had in my mind how arduous and frightening sea life must have been. Although Tor Eigeland was travelling at a much later date and for different reasons, the feelings of loneliness and having to adapt to a new way of living were extremely admirable in one so young. This feeling was compounded very early on when Tor witnesses the death of a ship mate which happens totally unexpectedly, the trauma no doubt staying with him for a long time.

Not to be deterred, he continues to travel whenever the opportunity afforded and spent part of his young life living and studying in Mexico. Opportunity did present itself at multiple times throughout the book and it struck me how the idea of fate or ‘stuff happening’ was a continual motif presented throughout. Tor Eigeland spent a lot of time being in the right place at the right time. Witnessing the speeches of Fidel Castro, meeting Johnny Weissmuller, Norman Mailer and Chuck Berry.

Tor documents a world that is both beautiful and conflicted. The earlier sections of the text have particular resonance as you as a reader are in the position to know how events turn out or continue to be grappled with to the present day. There is a consideration and reflection on the past and how times have changed, ‘looking back it seems to me that my life, my way of working has been one of ever-accelerating change.’ This encompasses all aspects of Tor Eigeland’s life: travel, ever changing equipment and technology. They have all demanded something different from him however he argues the fundamentals of photography remain the same, ‘it is the photographer’s eye that makes the great picture along with a good camera and sharp lenses.’ The very last section of the text where Tor reflects on one of his last assignments in Tangier, he poignantly states, ‘we have to try to understand and value the best in each other across cultures, languages, religion and race.’ This book works to collect the very essence of that philosophy both in the words on the page and in the people and humanity that shine through from the photographs.

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