As many of you know, one of the main aims of this blog/movement and specifically the God Narratives Project is to inspire others, by highlighting the journeys of people that are letting their God-given light shine for the world to see [Matt. 5:14-16]. For Elo, this light is expressed in her writing and in her photography as documented on ‘The Forgetter’s Eye’ page on Instagram. I had a great time chatting with her for this interview & I hope you enjoy reading it!
Many people see God as their protector, provider & guide- and all of this He absolutely is. But I also see Him as a God of creativity and beauty and wonder. I see evidence of Him in much of your work. How do you feel God has inspired you creatively on ‘The Forgetter’s Eye’ project?
What’s interesting about TFE to me is that it’s the product of one of my flaws. Coming to terms with the fact that my memory is not great at all, I made a spontaneous decision to start taking photographs as a way to preserve the moments that make my life worth it. Naturally, that started off with friends, family and activities and really, it just grew from there.
Weirdly, that’s the first way He has inspired me on this. By helping me remember that little flaws and setbacks literally only have as much power over me as I allow them.
I hadn’t really given much thought to what I was doing until one day when I was journaling and speaking to God about a moment I’d shared with a stranger and how it resonated with me. I felt Him say to me, ‘look, you have so much to say. So say something. Don’t overthink it. Just say something.‘ I started the page the same day.
I don’t think I am amazing at photography, I really don’t think I’m great at it [I do intend to work on it. But] I’m more into it for the stories and how there can be a thousand words behind just one still image. I’m more into it for the opportunity to display all the simple things that should still matter. And ultimately, I think what God has been showing me through this is that He’s interested in the details and how much attention we pay to the world.
For that reason alone, I’m less afraid to talk about the little things in life that make our worlds stop – even when we can’t be bothered to notice.
He keeps showing me that there’s still good in the world and that it’s worth paying attention to.
#1000reasonstoloveNigeria : because stunning colours like these are commonplace.
Lastly. God’s used it as an avenue to really conquer my fear. I’ve been trying to outgrow the fear of sharing my thoughts, my words, my ideas and putting myself out there, for years now. This is helping me.
What has been the scariest part of sharing/ the most impactful part of the sharing process?
The scariest part? Not being able to express myself/my experiences adequately.
The most impactful part? Responses.
Has there been any response to your page that has surprised you so far?
It’s all been overwhelming. Right from when I started, I think it was the third picture or so. It was a ‘Things We Lost in Nigeria’ photo, on the Bring Back Our Girls issue. Someone commented saying she was shivering as she read it, because she had actually forgotten about the girls. That was great to me, because it made someone consider something. It made someone stop to think.
‘#thingswelostinNigeria : Our Girls. A myriad of unexpected things can get lost and still be forgotten. Nigeria has taught me this. When honesty, integrity, good leadership, water, electricity and/or billions of Naira went missing, there are many things we did before we did the expected. We fought, we slandered, we cried, we mourned the loss, we sat silently and wondered what we could do. At some point, we even found the humour in the misery. But we still, after all said and done, returned to a now familiar end result: amnesia.’
Also, just a few days ago, I put a picture up, asking people to say one beautiful thing about themselves and one thing about someone they know and/or love.
There were over 67 comments on it. People were tagging their friends and families, to say what’s beautiful about them. The best part about that for me again, is that people have to stop to think about these things, and even if it’s just for that very moment that they’re better for it, it’s more than enough.
Do you feel the Holy Spirit guiding you in the details? e.g who to approach for a picture, how to take it, etc? What to write?
Yes and no.
Yes, because in my walk with God, one thing I’m constantly challenged to do is to experience people, communicate with people, love people – in my thoughts, speech and actions. Approaching people respectfully and graciously is an aspect of that. Other times, I feel a sure urge to walk up to people I didn’t even realize had important things to say, or people who I didn’t expect to be approachable. And the best things always come out of moments like that. But that aspect goes beyond taking photos.
Which brings me to the no.
“in my walk with God, one thing I’m constantly challenged to do is to experience people, communicate with people, love people – in my thoughts, speech and actions.”
I don’t believe that God polices (my) art. He doesn’t always tell me to do this or do that. If he’s telling me anything, a lot of the time, it’s to be myself. It’s to go even more outside my comfort zone. And I really do think I appreciate that more.
What’s your favourite thing about taking street portraits? I guess apart from all the lessons you’ve learnt.
I think my favourite thing about street photography is catching people in their character. I like that neither the stillness nor the movements are staged or scripted. People are going about their everyday lives when you encounter them, and after they’ve encountered you (if they do), they keep going.
It has to be the rawness of it. I think that’s what I love the most.
So what has been the best or funniest or most impactful moment that you’ve ‘frozen’ and you’ve meditated upon after?
I think I have a top three. But one of my favorite moments to have caught on camera was the photo with a boy called Mohammed. He’s one of the students I got to teach in Ghana. It was a really rough day that day, because his little brother wasn’t feeling very well. He cried for most of the day.
Mohammed was sat with his mum the whole time and when she got up to take the boy to the hospital, he started crying. She told him to calm down and stay back. He retreated to some corner in the room and had his back against the wall. When she left the place with the little boy, he came out from where he was hiding. He watched them until he couldn’t see them anymore. He’s 4, but he stood there, and he watched his mother go (she didn’t notice, because she didn’t turn back around, but) he watched. He actually watched to see that they were okay. I don’t know what it is about that moment, but thinking about it still gets me.
You mentioned in one of your posts, that the ‘things we lost in Nigeria’ series is to remind us of the things that are still missing that we may get up and search for them. How do you think Nigerians can search for [and find] God?
That’s a whole nation you’re asking me to speak on/to.
I don’t have all the answers and I don’t want to generalise. But I can tell you what I know for sure. God is bigger than religion.
Generally, our greatest setback might be that we’re always trying to buy our way into and out of things so that we can claim authority. But you cannot buy forgiveness by being in a religious building or gathering Monday-Sunday. You can’t buy it with your tithes. You can’t buy it by reading religious texts everyday.
‘#thingswelostinNigeria : God. It is so possible to be totally religious and yet not know or be known (personally) by God. The average Nigerian can regurgitate everything they have heard about God, in a heartbeat. We will “thank God” for and/or pray before just about anything – including ill-acquired wealth/premarital sex/a robbery “operation”. For a lot more of us, it happens on a much smaller scale. […] religion cannot save one from his/her deepest issues and that God is NOT punctuation for our every sentence. He is mighty and sovereign and loving. Thus, to follow religion pretentiously, is to miss out on all that He is and can be, to our own detriment. […] I reckon we’ll realise that the heaviest loss in our country as a whole isn’t actually any of the many things or people that we are currently grieving over. It is… God. And maybe thereafter, we’ll find ourselves at the beginning of the process of putting our lives/hearts where our mouths are. ‘
God has made us an offer to turn everything around for our good, for free. That’s in Jesus. We ought to stop our unnecessary toiling at that name. We ought to stop our mouths running and really ask what He came to do. We ought to be still and accept that as mind-blowing as it is, God doesn’t need our help to change our lives. He literally just requires our attention and our acceptance of what He has already done. I think everything changes when we accept that.
I’ve noticed a lot of people our age don’t realize they can use their talents/gifts to minister/glorify God. How would you encourage someone to allow God to permeate that area of their life? (and every other area)
- First, by clarifying this: “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” – Martin Luther King.
- God is an artist. Look at the sea, at the sun: how it rises and sets, at the moon, at trees: how they bloom and how they bare themselves, and then look at yourself. You are God’s art. Your creator created you creative. So, create.
- Human art is God’s creative hand on Earth.
- Your “voice” is important. You have more to lose by being quiet than getting up and doing whatever it is that you’re good at.
Finally, what’s your favourite thing about a relationship with God?
Freedom. He lets me be myself. Even when I’m being strong headed, I feel like God is patient with me. On big decisions, He says to me —okay. Well I’m just going to put this right here. This is a picture of where I’m trying to take you. And this is a picture of where you’re trying so hard to be. You choose. [I’m going to admit this right now, at the risk of all losing whatever cool points I may have: God’s picture always looks better than mine.]
I don’t feel the threat of him saying ‘I will leave you if you don’t do this.’ I actually do not/have not at any point. What I do feel is a love that leads me into right. He shows me in the little things. In the way He deals with me, I don’t even get the chance to forget that He always wants the best for me.
Thank you to Elo for doing this interview with me and for sharing with us on The Forgetter’s Eye. Do follow the page and share this with anyone you think it will impact.