Deadly Destiny: Remembering Photojournalist Dan Eldon

December 23, 2003

Editor's Note: Patty Kim, correspondent and host for National Geographic On Assignment, has been influenced as a journalist, and personally moved, by the life and work of Dan Eldon—a photographer who was murdered in Somalia in 1993 at the age of 22. Here she describes the work and philosophy of Eldon that inspired her hour-long documentary of his life. Deadly Destiny airs Friday, December 26, on the National Geographic Channel.

Like a comet, he blazed through life. Every day was a new adventure. But an act of grief and revenge cut it short.

Dan Eldon was born in London, and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. He worked as a photographer for Reuters news agency in Africa and was only 22 years old when he was murdered.

In July 1992, Eldon and Reuters journalist Aidan Hartley went to Mogadishu to cover the civil war and an epic famine. In January 1991, a militia forced out the Somali dictator, Siad Barre; the country quickly collapsed into chaos, as armed clans fought for control.

Eldon's talent was obvious—barely out of his teens, his photographs of the war made double-page spreads in Time and Newsweek.

"Africa and Dan were this great partnership because…on one level [Africa's] incredibly beautiful, the landscape, the people, the cultures—it's stunning. But beneath that is incredible poverty, incredible violence and disorder and chaos, and there's a thin line that sort of separates those two sides," said Jeff Gettleman, a reporter for the New York Times, based in Atlanta, Georgia. "Dan would just sort of walk along that and you could tell that he just drew so much energy from [those] two parts of his life."

On July 12, 1993, intervening U.S. forces—part of a UN mission to end famine—fired missiles at a house they believed was a stronghold of Somali warlord General Mohammed Farah Aideed. Eldon and his colleagues rushed to the site. Survivors of the devastating attack pulled shredded bodies from the rubble. Seconds later, the mob's grief gave way to rage; Eldon had no choice but to run for his life.

Beaten to Death

Along with three others, he was stoned and beaten to death on a dusty street in Mogadishu.

That might have been the end of Eldon's story had his mother, Kathy Eldon, not made a fateful decision to publish her son's journals. These were no ordinary documents.

Her son had left behind 17 black journals, many as thick as a New York telephone directory. Together there were more than two thousand pages bursting with life and studded with shards of glass, leather, ostrich feather, coins, rice; photos and sketches were brilliantly embroidered with wax and even traces of blood.

"They were as intricate as needlework, and they left you speechless," recalled childhood friend Robert Norton, a film distributor living in Los Angeles.

Continued on Next Page >>


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