Alastair HIMMER –
A madcap Japanese great-grandmother armed with a camera and an appetite for mischief has shot to fame for taking side-splitting selfies — many of which appear to put her in harm’s way. Closing in on her 90th birthday, Kimiko Nishimoto tweaks the nose of fear: she has amassed more than 41,000 followers in just two months since she started regularly posting her hilarious snaps on Instagram.
The goofy photos show the fun-loving pensioner riding a broomstick like Harry Potter or, even more alarmingly, knocked over in an apparent traffic accident.
“I’ve actually never injured myself taking a photo,” Nishimoto tells AFP in an interview at her home in Kumamoto, western Japan.
“I’m always focusing hard on taking a fun photo so I really don’t think about the danger too much,” she explains.
Nishimoto, who only took up photography aged 72, reveals she quickly became hooked on the hobby after being invited to join a local class.
“I love my camera,” adds the sassy octogenarian, who has three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
“I even sleep with it by my bedside, just in case. I always have it close.”
A decade later she secured her first solo exhibition — held in her home town — but Nishimoto’s recent decision to showcase snaps of her daredevil stunts on social media has now catapulted her to stardom.
Such is her celebrity now that many fans were shut out of her exhibition at a Tokyo gallery in December as it struggled to cope with the crowds.
“At first I didn’t even know that my photos were that popular,” the former housewife muses with a twinkle in her eye, adding: “It’s not so much that I’m trying to shock people, I just take photos that I find funny. It’s just a bit of fun really.”
Born in 1928 — the year Emperor Hirohito was enthroned and Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse — Nishimoto is disarmingly young at heart and possesses a wicked sense of humour.
She manages her social media accounts herself through her smartphone, while her son helps her to set up some of the shots. Many of Nishimoto’s photos show her face contorted in mock anguish.
In one instance she is shown having seemingly fallen off a bike as a car speeds past, narrowly avoiding catastrophe.
In another, she is whizzing along on her motorised buggy while fighting off a flock of angry birds.
In a more risque image that could pass for a kidnapper’s ransom photo, she is seen wrapped in a garbage bag.
“It’s not like ideas just suddenly pop into my head but wherever I go I think about what it would be fun to dress up as in that place,” she chuckles.
And if you thought modern technology and fancy editing gadgets were for kids, think again.
Nishimoto’s mastery of montage techniques has her ‘levitating’ in several pictures — sometimes as a frilly fairy, or while offering a prayer to her late husband’s shrine.
“My husband passed away five years ago but even today I still show him photos I’ve taken,” explains the rambunctious senior. “He was always so supportive of whatever I chose to do.”
These days Nishimoto lives with a humanoid robot called Pepper, a model sold in Japan to keep the elderly company and bought for her by her son — although she confesses she has little time for the chatty droid these days.
“Oh, I haven’t switched it on for quite a while,” she sniffs, reaching for the power button. “It’s more trouble than it’s worth, the silly thing!”
After fetching her camera from her cluttered home studio, Nishimoto slips into a fluffy one-piece dog suit to take photos of herself in costume chained to a post in her garden.
“To be honest I don’t think too deeply about what photography means to me,” she muses.
“I just want to try and bring joy to people. Taking photos is the secret of my happiness. I’ll keep doing it for as long as I’m alive.” — AFP