Welcome to the new series Caturday Chat. You will meet an interesting personality from the internet cat world every Saturday on this blog. I am starting off #CaturdayChat with the interview of stunning documentary photographer Akiko DuPont whose photos of her cat and grandpa’s deep friendship went viral. iheartcats raved about it and so did The Dodo But that’s just the beginning of the story. Watch the story of Kinako the cat and Jiji her grandpa unfold in this video:
The woman behind the pictures is equally stunning. Akiko is an independent photographer (and a model on rare occasions) living in Tokyo, Japan; a passenger of the world of the roving eye. Her photographs have appeared in The Huffington Post Japan, Mainichi Weekly, Metro.co.uk, Livedoor News, My Modern Met, The DoDo, FOX News, People.com and Country Living Magazine. Akiko told the touching story through her photo essay Jiji and Kinako, which blew up the internet.
“There was no intention to share the photographs and the story to anyone when I first began documenting them. However, seeing these two by being these two, wrapping the family with a veil of warmth, I thought they may be able to provide heart-warming moments to someone out there as well, not just us family. Then this happened,” says Akiko in her email interaction with me.
Ask her if she knew this story would affect so many, and she says, “I am a little overwhelmed. And I cannot thank enough every platform for sharing my story. Every day, I receive emails from readers and I want to say “arigato” (thank you) to each and every one of them. Hoping this story of Jiji and Kinako will keep sprinkling warmth into the viewers’ hearts.” Our Caturday chat went something like this:
Kasmin: Kinako and Jiji seem inseparable.
Akiko: They are not always together, if that was your guess. They pretty much do their own stuff. But every now and then they get together, share their important moments, like they are making sure they are having a good day. Kinako and Jiji nap together a lot and they often sleep in a similar pose. It’s really funny yet heartwarming looking at them.
Kasmin: What is your grandfather like?
Akiko: My grandfather is a very interesting person, and we all love him, very very much.
In a way, he was always stubborn and a bit grumpy (as extremely traditional Japanese men are), but he is a generous, wise, giving, sincere, full of love, kind, very patient, serious, bright and charming, tiny old man (he is the tiniest of all in the family. I definitely got his blood, I am the second tiniest; I’m 154cm), and fluent in German.
Grandpa Jiji always cares about others, more than himself.
He fought in the second World War. And since the war ended, he has commuted for over 60 years until he was hospitalised in 2009.
Jiji is a very neat person. Since I can remember, scrap booking (documenting) newspapers has been his hobby (more like a mission). That is why a lot of my pictures of them have newspapers in sight. Jiji reads more than three newspapers a day, highlights them, cuts them, then glues them on his scrap books. He hasn’t been able to paste them lately so he throws the articles into files. The house is getting FULL of newspapers!
Kinako loves interrupting or trying to get Jiji’s attention when he is on his newspaper mission. Pretty much everyday, Jiji cuts the papers. Kinako jumps on the table. Then they fight, give up. Jiji cuts articles, Kinako sleeps on the newspapers or strays around the paper.
Kinako lifts up Jiji by simply being Kinako. Grandpa whispers to the cat every now and then, like he’s found a best friend in the house… then, satisfactorily, heads back to his “work” or sits on a sofa to watch TV.
“Don’t give him human food!” is what my mom always tells him, and whenever I catch Jiji giving a slice of fish to his buddy, he grins. He has found a true “buddy”.
Kasmin: Have you lived with a cat before?
Akiko: Jiji and I have always been dog persons. This is the first time in life we’re having a cat and I’m still learning how cats are different from dogs. Cats and dogs are very different, but they are both genuinely full of love.
Kasmin: What inspired you to create this photo essay?
Akiko: A friend didn’t know what to do with a rescue kitten so I brought him home. I hadn’t asked permission at home, so for the first month, I hid him in my room. This was soon after I covered a story on the one-year anniversary of the Tsunami (2011) in Japan (which means I have been stalking them for nearly 5 years!).
One day, Jiji wandered into my room and saw the kitten. His eyes shone full of happiness, and that when I thought I should document the two.
Kasmin: What else are you working on?
Akiko: I am working on photos of WWII women victims, the concept of childhood, ethnic minorities.
Kasmin: Your portraits are intimate and have tiny details which people miss. What is your work process, specially for portraits?
Akiko: Good question.
I try not to think too much when seeing through my lens since if I did (think), I won’t be shooting “how they are” but “what I want them to be”. I try not to “think” and shoot when emotion is involved in a moment or when I feel it’s the right moment: the moment when they look like they are feeling something, or I am feeling something.
If the object is a person or people, I look at their wrinkles, then their eyes, then hands and clothes. They are fountains of life stories and they make you want to know them more.
My antenna is always on when I am with a camera.
Kasmin: What is your typical day like?
Akiko: When I’m working on submissions or staying with the people I’m documenting, I may sleep less than 2 hours and run around the rest of the day. Energy bars are handy on such days.
When I’m working from home, I rest a lot, and make sure I do a long run at least four times a week (I hurt my knee last December so I am missing the habit at the moment).
I cook Japanese food as often as possible and try to have dinner with my husband every day to share our everyday lives. It’s vitamin for my life.
I go to museums or galleries several times a month to train my eyes and let myself sink into the masterpieces. Seeing “good” images helps me.
Kasmin: Being a woman in the world of photography. Does it make a difference in any way?
Akiko: I can’t immediately come up with a specific example but being female does make a difference sometimes. For example, when a male photojournalist friend was trying to document women who went through domestic violence, they were uncomfortable telling their whole story or being captured on camera. He said that they eased a little when he switched with me. He had been trying this project for three years.
Sometimes, it doesn’t depend entirely on whether you are good or bad at your work. Also, women photographers need to be self-aware and more careful than men, when we are in less safer areas. However, generally speaking, I don’t think there’s much difference besides a few exceptions.
Via #daily-prompt Passenger