The Journals of Dan Eldon
by Rick Laney
Dan Eldon was the poster-boy for living life to its fullest. Born in England and raised in Africa, he was on a mission to experience everything the world had to offer. Even at an early age, Eldon’s art journals mirrored his own overflowing life – bursting at the seams with photos, drawings, and everyday items that held special meaning.
“Dan’s journals would end up weighing five or six pounds,” said Kathy Eldon, Dan’s mother. “There would be feathers sticking out of them and things hanging out of the sides. One of them was actually held together with a leather belt because he had so much packed in there.”
The seventeen journals Eldon left behind offer a snapshot of a life lived to its fullest. Through collages of ticket stubs, paintings, matchbook covers, photographs, newspaper articles, spaghetti boxes and anything else that caught the artist’s eye, viewers get a moving glimpse into a life lived at 500 miles-per-hour.
When it came to understanding the people of Africa, Eldon was on a quest. He spent countless days and nights living with the Masai Tribe and became close friends with many villagers. His genuine interest in the people and their culture was apparent in his evolving journals. By high school, Eldon’s simple scrapbooks developed into true works of art. His growing photography and design talents were also becoming obvious.
At nineteen, Eldon created a mission statement for himself: “Safari as a Way of Life.” It summarized his thirst for adventure, desire to explore, and his fascination with beauty and danger. While most students would be content spending the weekend camping with friends, Eldon wanted his “safaris” to be more meaningful. He once raised and delivered $20,000 to help refugees in Mwanza build wells for drinking water.
“Dan thought everyone should live a full life, not just for themselves, but for others too,” Kathy Eldon explained. “He had a way of making altruism fun. Everyone wanted to be a part of the things Dan did.”
Following a semester at college in California and an internship at Madamemoiselle magazine in New York, Eldon returned to Africa unsure of what the future would hold. It didn’t take long before Reuters – the world’s largest international multimedia news agency – hired Eldon as a photojournalist. At the time, he was the youngest photographer Reuters ever hired.
Although Somalia was his first real assignment, Eldon’s photographs appeared in countless magazines and newspapers around the world, including TIME and Newsweek. The gamble taken by the editors at Reuters with the young photographer paid off, and Reuters planned to move him to new assignments.
On July 12, 1993, the day Eldon was scheduled to leave Somalia, U.S. helicopters bombed a house in Mogadishu where a warlord was thought to be hiding. Eldon grabbed his camera and raced to the scene with other members of the press. When they arrived at the bombed-out home, the journalists found a large group of people piling dead bodies of men, women, and children into the backs of pickup trucks. The warlord was not in the home at the time of the bombing. Outraged, the crowd quickly turned its hostility toward the foreign journalists.
When the violence was over, Eldon and three other journalists were dead. In a bitterly ironic turn of events, while trying to draw international attention to the pain and suffering in Somalia, he lost his life at the hands of the people he spent years trying to help. Eldon was 22 years old.
Weeks later, a large nylon bag arrived at the Eldon home in Nairobi. Dan’s sister Amy went through the contents, finding many of Dan’s personal belongings and, at the bottom, an unfinished journal. Unlike the other journals he created, this last one did not seem complete. Whereas most of his journals had vivid collages and endless variations of color and texture, the last book was mostly comprised of single, haunting photographs.
“That final book didn’t have all of the drawings and sketches that most of his journals had,” Kathy Eldon said. “There were simply photos – but the photos were so stark and powerful, they stood alone. Nothing more was needed.”
More than a decade after his death, Dan Eldon still provides inspiration to thousands of people. In recent years, he has been the subject of a book, a television documentary and his journals were published in a book titled Dan Eldon: The Journey is the Destination by Chronicle Books. A major motion picture about his life is now in the works.
“You have to wonder if Dan didn’t somehow know that his time here would be short,” said Kathy Eldon. “He did so much living in so little time.”
Eldon’s philosophy of living an overflowing life strikes a chord with many people who desire a full and meaningful existence. Fortunately, he lives on through the wonderful pages he left behind.
Rick Laney is a freelance writer who lives with his wife and three children in Knoxville, TN. His writing has appeared in newspapers and a variety of magazines since the late 1980s.
To honor the legacy of Dan Eldon, Kathy and Amy Eldon founded the Creative Visions Foundation in 1998. To learn about the foundation, visit www.creativevisions.org. The book containing Dan’s journals, The Journey is the Destination, is available for purchase at www.stampington.com.