Dan Eldon -- tribute to a fallen journalist

Dan Eldon was the youngest photojournalist in the history of Reuters. Just over two months shy of his 23rd birthday, he and three other journalists were stoned to death by a mob in Mogadishu, Somalia, as he tried to record reactions to a UN bombing raid on the suspected headquarters of General Mohammed Farah Aidid. Eight years later, Dan Eldon is still remembered on the Web - but the site that bears his name doesn't dwell on his profession or his death. Rather, it celebrates an extraordinary life, and shares the private masterpieces that filled his journals.

Dan Eldon, the website, is currently in its second incarnation. The first -- at least on the occasions that I was visiting it -- had technical problems which made some of the contents inaccessible. The new version, while not a completed work, appears fully functional and, like the vibrant journal/scrapbooks that are featured here, is peppered with the images of Eldon's life. Opening with a Flash animation of a travel permit, the homepage progresses to a cascade of images from Eldon's work and a site index illustrated with his drawings - with the main body of the contents being housed in two sections, About Dan Eldon and The Journals.

While websites' 'About' pages are usually only of interest to family, potential clients and website reviewers, 'About Dan Eldon' is an essential first stop for visitors to this site. With a chronological timeline, and articles written by friends and family, (as well as an essay by Eldon himself about "An Encounter with Ralph Waldo Emerson") 'About Dan Eldon' chronicles a concrete example of those annoying people who do more living during their short time on earth than most people blessed with longevity. From a stint as an child extra in the film, Out of Africa, to raising money for a friend's heart surgery when he was 17, to uncovering the famine in Somalia in 1992, Eldon's life could make Hemingway look like a couch potato. (And while those close to him make it clear that he was no saint - it's equally clear that, directly and indirectly, he helped a great many people.)

But The Journals are what is getting the site most of its attention. Begun when he was 15, these journals don't fit the traditional notion of 'diaries by any other name' - rather, they are portable collage galleries, which he shared only with family and friends. Accompanied by an excerpt from the book, "Dan Eldon: The Art of Life," the journals are presented as Flash interactives - each click turning the page to reveal a new creation. (Depending on your screen resolution, you may have to temporarily hide your Navigation and Location bars to make the necessary room.)

Beginning with the standard child's drawings made to complement writing in a spiral bound notebook in the 6th grade, soon, press clippings, paintings, photographs, and three-dimensional objects like feathers and band-aids are being added to the words. Eventually the images and ephemera dominate, and in places the writing disappears completely. (The pages are so jammed with these enhancements that the books ended up being several times their original thickness, and it's amazing that the bindings held together at all - even with the assistance of duct tape.)

Not only do the journals reflect various aspects of Eldon's life, in a strange way, they mark his death as well. Apart from the inside front cover, the pages of his final, unfinished book (and the last few pages of the previous book) contain nothing but pasted-in photographs - no additions, no comments, no color. Whether this was because he didn't have the chance to add his artwork before he died, or whether he chose to leave these mostly military images unadorned, their stark appearance in contrast with the rest of the journals makes for an eerie accompaniment to his last days.

There is more to the site as well. So that Eldon's life can continue to have a positive impact, The Learning Center offers classroom materials on such subjects as The Realities of War and Refugee Life in Africa, as well as "an introduction to the history, technology, and social issues of war correspondence and the news media." Deziree Magazine (named after Eldon's 17-year old Land Rover) is still in the planning stages, but hopes to feature articles and artwork by and for young people - covering peace and activist issues, and promoting involvement in local, national, and international projects. Links offers some more information about the photographer, and a few recommended sites.

To quote Emerson, "It is not length of life, but depth of life." Dan Eldon's life illustrates Emerson's point very effectively.

Dan Eldon can be found at http://www.daneldon.com/ and http://www.daneldon.org/.

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