Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Life Examined

by Dan Eldon

On July 12, 1993, U.N. troops in Somalia bombed a house wrongly assumed to be the headquarters of the warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. Instead, 74 innocent civilians were killed and many others were injured. Dan Eldon working for Reuters, along with several other photojournalists at the scene of mayhem were brutally beaten and stoned to death by the outraged crowd. Eldon was 22 years old.

The tragic end to his young life took a surprising turn: Eldon's private journals which he had kept since he was a teenager, were returned to his family. Unlike traditional diaries, the journals are virtually free of text, filled instead with elaborate collages of ephemera (cards, labels, phone book pages, photos and newspaper clippings) Eldon meticulously collected and altered. His family chose to share his complex and startling work first in the 1997 book, The Journey is the Destination, followed by the traveling exhibition of the actual journals.

A film biopic is planned for 2011 with Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) cast as Dan Eldon. There have been other artists portrayed in films with varying degrees of believability; Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh, Nicole Kidman as Diane Arbus, José Ferrer as Toulouse-Lautrec, Guy Pearce as Andy Warhol and Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo to name a few. In each instance, the audience sees the details of the artist's life, their studio, home and idiosyncrasies. Because the artists vision is experienced through the filter of the writer, the director, and finally the actor, his or her particular way of seeing the world is distorted and at best an abridged version. Perhaps this explains why the pure, wordless expressions of Eldon's are so evocative.

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