In Stuff Happens Norwegian-born Tor looks back on a life packed with adventures, starting in 1947 when he set off from Oslo – aged just 16 – as a deckhand bound for Shanghai. His desire to travel and a keen sense of curiosity led him into photojournalism and a world of excitement and delights as well as moments of tension and fear. Stuff Happens is Tor’s tale of life spent almost always in motion, showcasing his gift for encountering famous and infamous people: the King of Jordan, undercover Israeli spies, Fidel Castro, and author Norman Mailer, among many. Illustrated with over 250 photographs, Stuff Happens shows the power of using an image to tell a story: “Sometimes, when I get a really good shot, I can feel it, like getting goosebumps”, Tor says. “How did this happen, I ask myself, how was I so lucky to be here?”

Tor Eigeland, Stuff Happens

Tor Eigeland, Stuff Happens

I have had a very fortunate life with a 60-year career as a freelance photojournalist. It is only now, in my 90s, with my book Stuff Happens, the Far from Humdrum Life of a Photojournalist just out, that I look back and realise what has helped me most along the way.

1. Curiosity

I grew up in a household full of books. I read about adventures and places far away, piquing my curiosity to see the outside world for myself. That sense of curiosity never left me.

2. A broad education

A lot of arm twisting allowed time off school, in 1947 at age 16, to work on a freighter travelling from my hometown of Oslo to Shanghai and back. That experience couldn’t have given me a better life education. ‘Travel broadens the mind’ and it certainly did for me. Other than toughening me up, it opened my eyes to many things I encountered along the way... people and places far outside my own world, standing me in good stead for my future when I would encounter many more.

3. Language skills

To travel for work, it helps enormously to have languages, at least a reasonable smattering of vocabulary. If you can’t communicate, in my work certainly, you don’t develop the rapport necessary for good photos and a good interview. I speak 4 or 5 and can manage the basics in a couple more. Being Norwegian, like all Scandinavians, seems to have blessed me with a good ear from the start!

4. People skills

Developing these skills has been crucial for my work – for most people’s work - and, of course, they improve with the years. Interacting with people: young and old, rich and poor, of many different nationalities and cultures, from Bedouins to kings... through my work, I’ve had the privilege of meeting all sorts. People can be very wary of photographers, (or just shy), so being trusted was important.

5. Good health

Staying in good shape, physically and mentally, forever ready to get on a plane and head off into the unknown has always served me well. Rarely time off on assignment to be ill. Had I been fussy about food, I would frequently have gone hungry. I have always maintained that if it’s good enough for the locals, it’s good enough for me. This enabled me to share many a precious moment enjoying the host’s hospitality. A good constitution is therefore important!

6. Be prepared and flexible

I learnt early to be well researched in advance of a job and be prepared, where possible, for all eventualities. Knowing about the people I might encounter, the place I was going to, and the situations I might find myself in – all good business practice. As a photographer, it also applied to having my camera gear thoroughly checked (no battery shops in the rainforest or desert) and having a very good comprehensive check list of things to be sure not to forget.

7. Positive attitude

Things usually turn out OK. It takes a few years under one’s belt to realise this but, fortunately, my ‘stuff happens’ attitude is helpful. I accept that many things are beyond my control and, as I say more than once in my book, best just to get on with it.

Being a freelance photojournalist has, for me, been immensely rewarding. Not a job with regular hours, a stable routine, supportive colleagues, holiday pay and generally better salary, freelance photojournalism is more an all-encompassing, rather precarious, life or even lifestyle. Difficult to maintain a good work/life balance with frequent trips away, work can be 24/7 at times but, for me, it has had far more highs than low points. Despite being, at times very hard work, lonely (you invariably work alone) and sometimes dangerous, I count myself blessed to have been able to experience so much.

Stuff Happens: the Far from Humdrum Life of a Photojournalist is out now online and in all good bookshops (hardback and ebook), published by Brown Dog Books: