Dan Eldon,
The Journey is the Destination:
The Journals of Dan Eldon

(Chronicle, 1997)

If intensity frightens you, the journals of Dan Eldon will scare you to death.

Eldon was the youngest Reuters photojournalist in history. At only 22, he had travelled the world over with his mother and father. They lived in an African nation for most of his developmental years, leaving Eldon with his camera. It was early when he realized he had a talent for telling stories with his photos, and after a brief foray into the wilds of New York City, Eldon went back to Nairobi to live. With his camera, his blank books (totaling about seventeen at the time of his death), and his Land Rover, he travelled through the African countries taking pictures.

When he took Reuters up on an assignment to Mogadishu -- a destination he'd photographed so often that the locals sometimes called him the "mayor" of the city -- he had no idea that it would be his last. He was stoned to death by an angry mob of the very people he was trying to help through his work.

His mother, after his death, compiled some of his most stunning work into The Journey is the Destination.

Comprised mostly of his journal entries, this book is far from what you'd assume a journal to be. There's no "Dear Diary." No wordy accounts of crushes or schoolkids or lingering angst or bad poetry. Everything that comes to mind when you think "diary" is pretty much absent.

What's there is a story in whirlwind fragments. Flyers, letters, coins and maps have been pasted together with photographs and painted over. Words have been written on some of the pages -- others are strictly visual. It's an insight into the chaotic, creative mind that Eldon posessed -- and chronicles both his adventures and his personal evolution.

For example: in an early collage, Eldon pasted in cut-out photos of his friends and family, sticking them together messily with glue. He drew and painted over the top of this, and wrote subtle jabs at his sister in the margins. In a later collage, made while he was in Morocco, pictures of a goat skull and varied moroccan Islamic symbology are overwritten with the story of an old blind man who keeps a baby owl as a pet. All of it is on a backdrop of a newspaper article in Arabic.

His symbolism and deeper emotional maturity come through, as do his shock and dismay at the world around him. He has socially relevant pages and pages that are self-involved and interior-centric.

Through it all, though, one thing is clear. Had this boy lived to go on, these journals may have never made it to the world. At the end of his life, the journal entries are more sparse and aesthetic. The chaos of boyhood was leaving him as he was forced to grow up by the horrors he recorded through his camera's eye -- and was then reflected onto the page.

The hardcover version of The Journey is the Destination is relatively expensive. It's an oversized book, almost a full 8 1/2 x 11", all in full-color. Once the shock of his work wears off and you begin to see the beauty, though -- it's well-worth the price.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

Buy The Journey is the Destination from Amazon.com.