Most of us know Leonard Nimoy as an actor. Some know that he’s also a director. But his true love is photography.
At the Star Trek Las Vegas convention, I attended Leonard Nimoy’s seminar on his latest photographic project, “Secret Selves”. Opening the seminar, Nimoy explained that he’s not the kind of photographer who carries a camera around. Instead he is a “concept photographer”. He develops the concept first and then shoots it.
He briefly described two previous concepts he’s worked with, Shekhina, the feminine face of God and another project with full bodied women models. The current project was inspired by Aristophanes’ suggestion that humans were once double-sided creatures who got so arrogant Zeus split them apart. Since then we’ve been looking for our lost self.
In a Massachusetts town called Northampton, Leonard worked with the R. Michelson Galleries for a special photography project. They invited 100 people to reveal what they considered their lost selves to be and if chosen, to be later photographed by Nimoy. Nimoy turned us over to a video of that shoot. We saw him talking briefly to people about the secret self they want to show, then posing them in front of a white backdrop.
One person was a large woman wearing a white robe. She has worked many years cutting cards in a playing card factory. Her secret self is a whore, though she seems very sweet and a little shy. Posing first with her back to the camera, she drops the back of the robe to reveal a lovely tattoo on her shoulder. Then she drops the robe further to reveal a tattoo on her lower back. By the end of the shoot, the robe is swinging freely as she stands facing us and sensuously turning her leg to reveal another design curling up her calf. Click here for the photo.
Another was a young very sweet man who wanted to be seen as tough. “I want to look tougher than I do.” The props he brought were cigarettes and a bottle of whiskey. When he struck his first pose, taking a slug of the whiskey, he choked on it – whew! Strong stuff! My heart went out to him. Click here for the photo.
Nimoy reappeared for Q and A after the video. I asked how long he had taken with each, curious about how he drew them out so well. He said it was about 10 minutes per person. Wow! He said that once he understood what they wanted it was easy for him to direct them. Oh yeah, he’s a director as well as actor - as well as photographer as well as poet.
He said he had wondered how many would pose nude, since so much of his work shown online involves nude subjects. There were some but not many. He said the most touching was the woman in the fur coat. He commented on how body art has exploded, from the occasional anchor in his youth to the plethora now. The design curling up the woman’s calf was of bear paws, “one for each man who done me wrong”.
Some subjects scared him. They were so fragile that he didn’t feel qualified to work with them. Others found it a transformative experience - they waited outside Nimoy’s hotel the next day, to share their experience. They had in fact, invited Nimoy to join them but he declined, “I didn’t want to get involved as a mentor or father figure for a therapy group. I’m just not qualified.”
Will he continue working with this concept? He left the door open. It has been 3 years so far. Another group of people? Another small town? It was also clear from being up close to him, that Leonard Nimoy is more fragile than he appears on stage. He was carefully conserving his energy during this seminar.
But whatever he decides to do – or can do – I’ll be watching. He is not only talented in many arenas but also gracious and accepting of the humanness of mankind in a way that brings out our best.
Thanks to LindsaySF for the pic and report on the panel!
Note: You can order signed Leonard Nimoy photo books on this page.