Author(s): Dan Eldon
Photographs and text excerpted from the late Reuters photographer's seventeen journals document his travels through war-ravaged countries.
This book has been written up almost everywhere, around the world, in local newspapers, and international publications. Here are a few of the reviews, each reflecting on the profundity of Dan Eldon's story.
By Peter Canby
Dan Eldon was only twenty-two when, at the height of conflict in Somalia, he and three other journalists were chased down by a mob enraged at a United Nations helicopter attack and stoned to death. The year was 1993. Eldon was among the first to document the famine in Somalia; he had risen rapidly through the ranks of war photographers, with spreads in "Time, Newsweek, "and "Stern." But, as "The Journey Is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon" shows, he was an artist as well. The son of an English father and an American mother, he grew up in Nairobi, where he became fascinated by the mixture of European and African cultures and learned to speak fluent Swahili. At fifteen, he began recording his life in a series of eclectic, exuberantly collaged journals, which incorporate everything from his own drawings and paintings to stamps, matchbook covers, photographs of his friends, and self-portraits.
By the time Eldon died, he had compiled seventeen journals, the last of which -- according to his mother, Kathy, who edited the published selection -- consisted, uncharacteristically, of his Somalia photographs mounted on plain white paper. Eldon was a popular figure in Somalia, but he'd become depressed by seeing the Africa he loved crumbling around him. In one of his journals he quotes Plato: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."
Lest the Picture Fade
By Joshua Hammer
For Kathy Eldon the trip was the climax of a four-yearobsession. On a blazingly hot day, last September, Eldon, her daughter, Amy, a television crew and 40 Somali bodyguards rode through the streets of Mogadishu to the rubble of a large cinder-block house. Here, on July 12, 1993, a U.N. helicopter fired missiles into a group of suspected aides to warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid, killing 80 people. Minutes after the attack, Kathy's son, Dan Eldon, 22, and three other foreign jounalists were cornered by an angry mob and stoned and beaten to death. Now, as mother and daughter approached the killing site to film a documentary, another hostile crowd gathered. "They were screaming 'Get these foreigners out, we don't want to remember that horrible day'," says Kathy Eldon, 51. "We piled back into the vehicles and left in a hurry." She was both shaken and strangely elated by the experience. "There was a curious sense of joy that we'd been there and seen where he died," she says.
Kathy Eldon has not grieved quietly. Over the past four years, she has traveled across three continents--and repeatedly relived her son's horrifying end--in a quest to commemorate his brief, eventful life. She has found an eager audience. Last month Chronicle Books published "The Journey is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon," a collection of vibrant collages created by Dan from the age of 13 until his death. The book has already sold nearly 30,000 copies, and a second printing is being planned. Meanwhile, former Columbia Pictures president Lisa Henson and Oliver Stone's former partner Janet Yang are developing a feature movie about the last three years of Dan Eldon's life. Next September Amy Eldon, 23, will appear in a Turner Broadcasting documentary about Dan'scareer called "Dying to Tell the Story." Thousands of teenagers have participated in a Nairobi program founded in 1993 by Dan's father, Michael, called The Depot--Dan Eldon Place of Tomorrow, a sort of Outward Bound-on-the-savanna that teaches leadership skills.
Eldon's story, a mix of doomed innocence, gonzo adventure and Third World exoticism, seems tailored for cinematic mythmaking. Son of a British father and an Amencan mother, now divorced, Eldon grew up in Kenya. His charismatic energy and precocious visual talent led him, at 20, to the office of Jonathan Clayton, then Reuters' Nairobi bureau chief. "He was another affluent white African kid who announced, 'I'm a photographer, ' like they all do," Clayton remembers. "But he had a wonderful eye for color and composition, and he was willing to learn." Eldon hooked up with the Reuters wire service as a freelancer, then got his big break after the December 1992 U.S. intervention in Somalia. Eldon captured vivid images of clan gunmen, starving children, Cobra helicopter gunships and bikini clad American soldiers in Mogadishu. Those pictures ran prominently in U.S. newspapers and magazines, including NEWSWEEK.
Kathy Eldon was at home in Santa Monica, Calif., when she received the news of her son's murder. "I sank to the floor and said, 'Somebody help me. Help me'," she remembers. After his violent death, Dan might well have faded into obscurity, but his family was determined not to let that happen. Michael Eldon, a Nairobi businessman, raised funds in Kenya and abroad to launch The Depot. Kathy, an aspiring film producer, began making the rounds of Hollywood film studios and publishers, often bringing along Dan's 17 boundjournals. Playful pastiches of newspaper headlines, airline tickets, passport stamps, African coins, maps, condom packages, surrealistic drawings and photographs of teenage nymphets, wildlife and Masai warriors, the journals reflect both a life of white African privilege and a boundless curiosity about the world.
The Eldons' crusade hasn't won over everybody. A few of Eldon's colleagues and friends admit to feeling queasy about the relentless celebration of his short life. "The Dan Eldon I knew would have been embarrassed by it," says one Africa-based correspondent who worked closely with him. "It's over the top." Some are also bothered by the disparity between the tributes lavished on Eldon and the scant attention paid to the three journalists who died alongside him: German photographer Hansi Krauss of the Associated Press and Kenyans Hos Maina and Anthony Macharia of Reuters. Kathy Eldon finds such criticism unfair. "Dan had a spirit of adventure and awareness of the world that we're trying to communicate to people," she says. The art on display in "The Journey is the Destination" makes a promising--and poignant--beginning.
Pages Ripped from Life
By Liesl Schillinger
Just as a botanist presses flowers in a book to trap the color they held when they still lived, The Journey Is the Destination holds a life compressed in its pages. That life vibrates with vivid hues and breathing texture; it is a collage of dewy girlfriends and Masai tribesmen, of wildebeest and decrepit Land Rovers, of photos, ironic news clippings and journal entries, all of them transformed by paint, ink, hair, beads, coins and blood into a talismanic journal of an artist's youth. That artist is Dan Eldon, a dashing young Reuters photographer who was born in London, raised in Kenya, and killed in Somalia at the age of 22, when an angry crowd stoned him to death after a United Nations bombing raid. The book has been drawn from the 17 visual journals Eldon made between 1984, the year he turned 14, and 1993, the year he died; and its pages were selected by his mother, Kathy, not to mourn his death but to celebrate his exuberant, concentrated life.
At 22, an age when most of his contemporaries were frolicking in their last summer of freedom, the pause between college graduation and the yoke of the first job, Dan Eldon had been drawn by his conscience to go to Somalia, to document the famine, war and lawlessness that prevailed there in 1992 and 1993. He was hardly a hardened newsman; he was a free-spirited boy with a hungry eye for beauty. But in Somalia, he would notice a "pretty girl, wrapped in a colorful cloth," only to see later that "both her hands and feet had been severed by shrapnel. Someone had tossed a grenade in the market."
The depravity of impersonal deaths came as a shock to him. "This was my first experience with war," he wrote in a book he self-published. "Before Somalia, I had only seen two dead bodies in my life. I have now seen hundreds, tossed into ditches like sacks. The worst things I could not photograph." Only the last few pages of his journals acknowledge the stark brutality of Somalia; the others preserve a rare adolescence in which imaginative horseplay jostled with exuberant idealism.
For young people who doubt that a life grander than MTV and the mall can be achieved in this age, Eldon's journals prove otherwise. And for kids, and adults, who long for a role model in their own image, an untarnished face that represents possibility, not pompousness, Eldon stands tall. The Journals focus a spyglass on Eldon's life, showing him exploring the Great Rift Valley with his Kenyan friend Lengai Croze, photographing his sister Amy and her lissome friends in absurdist scenarios, and raising money to pay for a heart operation for a sick Kenyan girl. They chronicle his trips to Japan, Russia, America and Europe (during which he acquired a variety of lurid call-girl matchbooks), and his brief stints at a few colleges.
They also highlight the relief expedition he initiated to help Mozambiquan refugees in Malawi, an adventure for which he raised $17,000 and mobilized an international team of 12 dazzlingly attractive young people, turning the mission into an orgy of youthful philanthropy. Using two rugged cars--a Land Rover that had been nicknamed "Deziree" after a voluptuous Italian girlfriend, and another called "Arabella"--"Team Deziree" embarked on the mission of helping refugees while recording "in detail with the eyes of a child, any beauty (of the flesh or otherwise), horror, irony, traces of utopia or Hell." It was, he writes, "the Search for clean water in a swamp."
Everywhere Eldon's insights, sometimes dark, sometimes irreverent, sometimes just plain funny, scrawl across the page. "He got the agony, she got the remedy," he writes across a two-pagepa