African Journey

Peter Canby, The New Yorker Sketchbook, August 18, 1997

SKETCHBOOK about photographer and artist Dan Eldon. Dan Eldon was only 22 when, at the height of the 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 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 (Chronicle Books) 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 (such as the one at the right) to stamps, matchbook covers, photographs of his friends, and selfportraits (the one above is from a page of religious kitsch). 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." The article is accompanied by a photograph collage self-portrait of Dan Eldon and a full-page color spread of one of his paintings. The color spread shows a human face at the center of swirls of color and bird imagery.

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