Community Guide Dan Eldon Traveling Exhibit

By Chris Perez,2014-07-11 11:12
15 views 0
Community Guide Dan Eldon Traveling Exhibit ...

“Once one has been to these challenging, terrible places, they’re always strangely drawn back

because there’s nothing that can compare to seeing the raw reality of the basic human need for

survival. It disgusts and inspires.” –Dan Eldon

Purpose of this Guide

    The following activities and discussion questions are provided to help members of your

    community to better understand and enjoy the exhibit Images of War. Celebrations of Peace: The

    Photographs and Collage Art of Dan Eldon. We have put the guide on the Internet in hopes of making it available to the widest audience possible; however, a paper version will also travel with

    the exhibit and may be copied.

Appropriate Audience

    The guide has been created by a team of college and high school educators and is intended for a

    broad audience, including school-aged students (middle school through college level), youth

    groups (e.g., church groups, older scout groups), and adults (e.g., members of book clubs, art

    groups, and retirement educational groups). Our hope is that the activities and discussion

    questions, which are purposely broad, can be easily adapted for various audiences and settings.

How to Use This Guide

    The Guide is broken into five parts:

    1. About Dan Eldon a brief overview of his life

    2. The Exhibit Activities and Discussion

    3. The Book Dan Eldon: The Art of Life

    4. The Film Dying to Tell the Story

    5. Resources

The questions and activities in this guide are meant to elucidate your experience of each of these

    three things. There are obvious overlaps between them, though, so if your group will only be

    studying one of three, we encourage you to read the entire guide for additional ideas.


    Dan Eldon was born in London in

    1970 to an American mother and a

    British father. Along with his younger

    sister, Amy, Dan and his family

    moved to Kenya in east Africa in

    1977. Kenya remained Dan‘s home

    for the rest of his life, and though he

    traveled often visiting more than 40

    countries in 22 years he always

    considered Africa home.

Dan‘s father led the east Africa division of a European computer company

    and his mother Kathy, an Iowa native, was a freelance journalist. Kenya was

    a popular destination in the late 1970s and 1980s; it was more politically

    stable and economically secure than most African nations, and the bountiful

    wildlife and perfect climate made it all the more appealing. Dan and Amy

    grew up with a constant stream of interesting visitors at their dinner table.

    Frog researchers, opera singers, filmmakers, reporters, and politicians were

    just some of the people who populated the Eldon household.

By the time Dan was in high school, he had begun to make his collage

    journals, something he started as an assignment for an anthropology class.

    Sometimes, he shared these with guests to the house. The journals were the

    perfect catch-all for his interests in travel, photography, and art. For the rest

    of his life, he would religiously keep these visual diaries-cum-art


As a high school senior, Dan told the guidance counselor that he was

    planning to do an internship at a magazine for a few months and then travel

    through southern Africa. ―Oh, you‘re taking a year off,‖ the counselor asked.

    ―No,‖ Dan replied, ―I‘m taking a year on.‖ He lived by this concept for the

    next five yearseducation through travel and firsthand experience.

    Although he enrolled in several colleges for a semester or two, his primary

    activities were travel, photography, and entrepreneurial schemes. Many of

    the latter were philanthropic in nature.


From a young age, Dan had a knack for raising money. As a teenager, he

    sold the jewelry of a Maasai woman, helping her to support her family, and

    he held large dance parties to help a classmate fund an operation. In 1990,

    two years after graduating from high school, he planned his biggest

    adventure and fund raising effort to date. Along with 13 other young people,

    all of whom were under the age of 21, he raised nearly $20,000 which the

    group delivered to a refugee camp in Malawi.

Two years later, Dan had an opportunity to fly to Somalia, Kenya‘s northern

    neighbor, to witness the civil war and famine. The three-day visit had a

    major impact on Dan. He saw that his work as a photographer could have a

    huge impact; few journalists were covering the story at the time and

    humanitarian relief was desperately needed. He also realized that he would

    be good at this line of work; his years of travel along with photographic

    skills would come together. Soon, he was a stringer for the Reuters news

    agency someone whose photos are promised to one agency but who is not

    a permanent employee of that agency.

He spent the next year in Somalia covering the famine and the arrival of

    both UN and US forces to the country. He underwent depression, shocked

    by the horrors of war and the death of so many of his fellow Africans. But he

    also shined as a young correspondent, loving the people he met and the pace

    of the work. By spring of 1993, his photographs routinely appeared in major

    newspapers and magazines. When Dan was killed on July 12, 1993, at just

    22 years of age, he‘d achieved more success in a competitive field that many

    do in an entire career.

For more information about Dan Eldon, there are several resources. The

    Journey Is the Destination is a compilation of excerpts form his collage journals with a brief introduction by Kathy Eldon. Dan Eldon: The Art of

    Life by Jennifer New is Dan’s biography, complete with many more images.

    Both books are published by Chronicle Books. Dying to Tell the Story is a

    2-hour documentary created by Dan’s sister, Amy Eldon, about the work of

    journalists in war zones. And is a web site that uses Dan

    as an inspiration to explore the issues he embodied: adventure, art, and

    activism. The above mentioned books and video, along with posters of Dan’s

    work and other resources are available via the web site.


Part II

    The Exhibit: Activities for before and after your visit

1. Photo Editor for a Day

    Objective: To familiarize participants with war photography, including the common themes and

    stories these kinds of photos express.

    In the exhibit you will see some of Dan Eldon‘s best photographs from the year he spent covering the civil war in Somalia for Reuters. As a photographer, his task was to take strong images,

    develop them, and then send the best shots to the Reuter‘s office via satellite fax. (Given the

    rudimentary facilities that most journalists work under in war zonesconverting bathrooms into

    darkrooms and leaning out of hotel windows to get satellite hook ups to work, none of this is as

    easy as it sounds.) The photo editor then chose the most compelling images to print in the next

    day‘s paper. He or she looked for photos that told a story and were visually compelling, as well as

    images that were relevant to reporters‘ articles. Because people often glance at newspaper and newsmagazine photos, these images must have a

    strong composition and quickly convey emotion in order to be successful. Think of them as visual

    shorthand; they must have universal meaning for anyone who sees them, no matter the person‘s

    nationality or cultural background. Consider, for example, one of the most famous images of the

    Vietnam War, a photograph of a naked girl running down a road, arms outstretched, screaming.

    The image is all the more poignant when we know that it was taken after South Vietnamese

    forces accidentally dropped napalm on their own civilians. But even without that information, it

    stands alone as a devastating image of suffering.

    Assignment: Imagine that you are a photo editor looking for images that serve as a witness to

    certain aspects of war. Looking through newspapers, newsmagazines, and some of the online

    resources listed below, select a group of 5-10 photographs that you think strongly express the

    following aspects of war: grief, patriotism, regret, hatred, relief, absurdity, and defeat.

    After you‘ve collected a group of photographs, you might try writing about them. Pretend you are explaining their power and meaning to your superior. Or, you‘ve organized them for an exhibit

    and you‘re writing an introduction for the public. Why did you choose these images? What do

    they mean to you? Share your thoughts with your fellow participants.

    If you haven‘t yet attended the exhibit, consider what kinds of photos you expect to see there.

    What do you know about Somalia or Africa that informs your expectations? What have you

    learned about war photography that prepares you for such an exhibit? If you‘ve already been to

    the exhibit, think about how Eldon‘s photographs compare to those you collected. Are there

    overlapping themes in both groups?

Here are some web sites with exemplary photographs from wars and other conflicts:


2. Understanding Your Destination

    Objective: To learn more about a present-day conflict and to understand the complexities of a war correspondent’s work.

Dan Eldon had never been to Somalia before he flew there in July 1992 to witness firsthand the

    growing famine. Although he had never been in a war zone before, the country, a former Italian

    colony with a largely Muslim population, was not completely foreign to him. Dan had grown up just

    to the south in Kenya and had traveled extensively throughout eastern and southern Africa. But for

    many other young reporters who arrived in Somalia in the early 1990s, Somalia might as well have

    been the moon.

The civil war there was one of if not THE most dangerous “beats” for a journalist to cover at the

    time. This is impressive bearing in mind that the war in Bosnia was going on concurrently.

    Mogadishu, the capital city, had been utterly destroyed by warring factions, making most modern

    conveniences impossible to come by. One needed to bribe one’s way into the airport, which was

    alternately controlled by different clan leaders. The city’s telephone wires had all been dug up.

    Electricity was provided by generators. Getting anywhere meant hiring a truck and armed guards

    from one of the clans. And then there was the incredible heat and sand of the country, which made

    everything more difficult.

Reporters and soldiers alike have described the many strange and off-putting aspects of the places

    they’ve served: the dense jungles of Vietnam, the blowing sand of the Gulf War, the Holiday Inn in

    Sarajevo where windows were a luxury. How do professional journalists prepare themselves for their

    destinations? Like diplomats and soldiers, they must understand the place they’re traveling to in order to do a good job. History, culture, and climate are all important. Often, they must learn about these

    things on the fly, literally!

    Assignment: To get a sense of what this experience is like, choose a current conflict in the world. It may be an event that is splashing across the front pages, or it may be an ongoing conflict that rarely

    receives headlines. If you’re seeking ideas for conflicts of interest, you might try the UN’s

    Peacekeeping site,, or the International

    Committee of the Red Cross’ site,

Collect a series of reports about this conflict from different sources. In the box below, you‘ll find

    a list of reputable sources that will be helpful for this assignment. Along with recent news articles,

    you‘ll want to find an overview of the conflict to help you understand its origins and various

    players. As you read information, consider these questions:

    ? What is the cause of this conflict?

    ? What is currently happening in the conflict?

    ? Who is involved in the conflict (i.e. countries, organizations, or national factions)?

    ? Which news source do you prefer for its coverage of this event and why?

Now pretend that you need to get to this place in the next 48 hours. Very quickly, you‘ll need to

    answeror at least begin to think seriouslyabout a series of questions. Try to find the answers

    to the following questions:

    1. What airlines, if any, fly into this country? What will be your route from your current home

    to the capital city?

    2. Once you get there, how is the transportation? Or, what transportation system still exists

    despite the war?

    3. What is the country‘s capital? What is its climate? What is the weather like now? In other

    words, are you packing your parka and boots or sandals and t-shirts?


4. What is the topography of this country? Will you be in mountains, desert, jungles, or other

    extreme topographies?

    5. How many square-miles large is the country? Will you be traveling long distances to cover

    your story, or will you be staying largely in one area? (Covering Somalia meant mainly

    staying in Mogadishu; covering the American attack of Afghanistan in 2001 entailed a much

    larger area.)

    6. Who is the current leader of this country? How long has he/she been in power? Under what

    circumstances did he/she come to power (e.g., democratic elections? military coup)? Who are

    the opposition leaders?

    7. You should learn a few words in the native tongue. What language(s) is spoken?

    8. What are the major religions in this country? Are people divided by religion in this conflict?

    9. Are there other major inequities in this country that might contribute to the conflict, such as

    ethnic minorities, extreme poverty, famine; etc?

    10. How dangerous is this country for visiting Americans and for journalists of all nationalities?

Talk about your findings with your fellow participants. Take this opportunity to inform each other

    about different conflicts currently occurring in our world. Also, discuss the kinds of issues that

    journalists must consider when preparing to cover a story. What surprised you in your research?

    If you‘re preparing to see the exhibit, what questions does this bring to mind about Somalia and Eldon‘s work there? If you‘ve already been to the exhibit, do you understand Eldon‘s

    photographs in a different way?


    Amnesty International - Human Rights Watch - INCORE - U.S. State Department -

    Christian Science Monitor - Associated Press -

    CNN -

    Reuters -

    New York Times - National Public Radio - The Library of Congress: Country Studies -

    Lonely Planet On-Line - CIA World Factbook -

    Committee to Protect Journalists -


3. Somalia Time Line

    Like many wars, the events in Somalia were complex. Review the time line of the civil war in

    Somalia (see below) and discuss the following:

    a. How was the colonial system, under which much of Africa was controlled by European thnations throughout the 19 century and until the 1950s and 60s, replaced by Cold War

    politics? What did the United States and the USSR have to gain by providing political

    and humanitarian aid to countries like Somalia during the Cold War?

    b. Does Somalia‘s clan system remind you of formal or informal political systems in other

    parts of the world, including the United States? How do you think it both benefited and

    harmed Somalia?

    c. How have ancient clan systems, such as that in Somalia or the Hutus and Tutus in

    Rwanda, been affected by more recent politics, such as Colonialism, the Cold War and its


    d. What is your understanding of the UN‘s mission? What do you think the UN‘s role

    should be in conflicts such as that in Somalia?

    e. Was President Bush right to send troops to Somalia in late 1992 to help the UN safely

    deliver food? If the U.S. helped people in severe need in this case, why didn‘t they in

    other conflicts around this same time, such as in Bosnia and Rwanda? What factors must

    a U.S. government take into consideration before deciding to be part of a mission such as

    that in Somalia?

    f. What do you think is the appropriate role of the media in a conflict like Somalia? Can

    you identify instances from the time line when the media seemed to act appropriately or


    g. The UN‘s role in Somalia expanded to include ―nation building,‖ a term that has come to

    mean bringing democratic institutions to previously unstable or corrupt nations. Although

    the intent is good, can you imagine any drawbacks to or ill effects from nation building?

    h. What do you think went wrong July 12, 1993? Who is to blame for the four journalists‘


    i. Were the US and UN right to have focused so much attention and energy on the warlord


    j. What similarities do you see between the events in Somalia and the US‘s post-September th11 policies?

    Somalia Time Line

A Brief Overview of Somali Political History

    Historically, Somalis were a nomadic people. They tended camels and sheep and traded

    with neighboring Ethiopians and Egyptians. They governed themselves through a clan

    system that provided minimal organization and protection. The first Europeans to

    dominate the region were the Portuguese who arrived in the mid-1500s and stayed more

    than a hundred years when power was transferred to the Ottoman Empire. In the late

    1800s, the region was divided. England took the north, calling it Somaliland; Italy

    dominated the south, including Mogadishu; France controlled the northwest and its ports;

    and an internal desert zone, Ogaden, was ceded to Ethiopia.

A shaky democracy held for about a decade after Somalia gained independence in 1960.

    In 1969, General Siad Barre took advantage of the chaotic political state there were 69

    parties representing 64 clans or subclans and led a coup. Barre viewed himself as part

    of a triumvirate along with Marx and Stalin. After a failed invasion of Soviet-allied


    Ethiopia in 1977, however, he lost Soviet support. During the 1960s through 1980s, many newly independent African countries were allied with either with the USSR or the United States. Given Cold War politics, then, it was not surprising that Barre was soon getting both humanitarian and military aid from the U.S.

    Early in his reign, Barre tried to eradicate the ancient and deeply rooted clan system. Somalis derive from six clans, which are further delineated by multiple subclans. Barre went so far as to outlaw clan loyalty, though he never succeeded; the system merely went underground. In 1978, when he suffered a coup attempt by another clan, it was Barre who openly reinitiated animosities. His Daarood clan was responsible for horrible atrocities throughout the 1980s. When other clans opposed the dictator, they faced severe harassment: one clan’s water sources were destroyed, tens of thousands of camels and sheep were killed, young women were forced into prostitution, and in 1988, 5,000 members of a rival clan were killed. With each clan or clan alliance operating its own militia, civil war quickly spread, starting in the north and heading south.


    In January, as warlords Mohamed Farah Aidid and Ali Mahdi Mohamed fight for control of the capital city, longtime dictator Siad Barre flees to the countryside. During the rest of the year, a famine spreads. It has been caused by the destruction of farms during the three-year civil war and Barre’s corrupt government. Over the next two years, at least

    300,000 people will die.

    Spring 1992

    Dan returns to Nairobi after attending fall and winter college terms in the United States. Increasingly aware of the political unrest in neighboring Sudan and Somalia, he takes a trip to a northern Kenya refugee camp with a family friend and has his first glimpse of the growing crisis.

July 1992

    Fifty unarmed United Nation’s military observers arrive in Mogadishu to monitor a short-

    lived ceasefire between the clans.

    Dan makes his first visit to Somalia. He and another reporter fly up from Nairobi with an aid organization; this is the most common and reliable way to get in and out of Somalia. Although he has agreed to show his photographs to the Nairobi newspaper The Nation

    and the news agency Reuters, Dan is mainly there for the experience, unsure of what he’ll find. After three days in the country, he plans to return.

August 1992

    The famine has crested, but people are still starving in large numbers. The UN begins to deliver food and supplies under the name Operation Provide Relief (a.k.a. UN Operation in Somalia, UNOSOM I).

    Dan works as a stringer for Reuters and lives at the agency’s Mogadishu compound during his long stints in the country.

October 1992

    Having saved money from his Reuters’ work, Dan travels to Norway to visit an old girlfriend and then to London to see family and friends. He is noticeably depressed to all who see him. He shows photos of Somali famine victims to an old friend, telling her there are other images, worse ones, he cannot show her.


December 1992

    The UN mission is having an increasingly difficult time delivering food and supplies. Clan militia, mainly AK-47-toting teenagers, loot airplanes as they land, highjack food convoys, and assault aid workers. Responding to a UN request for military assistance, President George Bush orders 25,000 U.S. troops to Somalia to lead an international UN force to ensure supplies are safely delivered. Officially called UNITAF, the US-led force is coined Operation Restore Hope.

    Dan covers the landing of the U.S. troops on the evening of December 9. As they wade ashore on the Somali coast near Mogadishu, the soldiers are met not by warring clans, but by a platoon of media. Dan spends much of the bizarre night ferrying equipment and film back and forth between the Reuters’ compound and the more senior photographers who have arrived to cover the landing.

Holidays, 1992

    Dan returns home for Christmas and New Year’s, spending much needed time with friends and family. Deciding to refocus himself, he starts several ventures, including a postcard and T-shirt business. He also produces a book of his Somalia photographs in which he writes, “After my first to Somalia, the terror of being surrounded by violence

    and the horrors of the famine threw me into a dark depression. …I don’t know how these experiences have changed me, but I feel different.”

Winter 1993

    UNITAF, or Operation Restore Hope, is successful in ending the famine. Initially, the forces are heralded by the Somalis. Clan warfare, chaos, and corruption continue unchecked, however, and Somalis grow impatient with the seemingly useless presence of American and UN troops.

    Dan’s photographs begin to receive more widespread coverage, appearing in newspapers and magazines all over the world.

    March May 1993 The UN forms UNOSOM II, intending to take over from UNITAF. The new mission’s expanded focus goes beyond humanitarian work and includes disarmament of the Somali people and “nation building.” Twenty-eight nations send troops; the US hands

    over command on May 4. Only 4,200 U.S. troops remain in Somalia, including just 1,200 combat soldiers.

    June 5, 1993

    Twenty-four UN-Pakistani soldiers are brutally killed and fifty more are injured while conducting a weapons search. The next day, the UN Security Council issues an emergency resolution calling for the apprehension of those responsible for the massacre. Soon after, Admiral Howe, the leader of U.S. forces, has leaflets posted around Mogadishu offering $25,000 for Aidid’s capture. The peacekeepers are at war with Aidid.

    Late June

    Dan takes an R&R break in Nairobi. One of his photos has just earned a double-page spread in Newsweek. He tells friends that he is ready to leave Somalia, and hopes that his next trip there may be his last. He is itchy to travel, and plans several safaris with friends for later in the summer. After that, he’ll choose between another Reuters’ assignment, perhaps Bosnia, and returning to Los Angeles to attend film school.


Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email