Leonard Nimoy: More than Mr. Spock
There’s no doubt Leonard Nimoy is at the heart of every Star Trek fan’s obsession. His portrayal of Mr. Spock the half-Vulcan, half-human Starfleet commander is beyond legendary. But Leonard Nimoy was more than just a great actor. He was an accomplished photographer too. Just like the character he portrayed on Star Trek, Nimoy’s art is rich and poignant. His photography spans decades and demonstrates a true passion for the arts.
The Story Teller
Leonard Nimoy left behind a legacy of amazing photography when he passed away in 2015 at the age of 83. He was an artist who enjoyed the complex nature of photography and loved carrying a camera everywhere in the hope of capturing things most interesting to him. His most notable works are thematic projects ranging from challenging the perceptions of the female body to capturing experiences growing up Jewish. Unlike film, where the story unfolds naturally, Nimoy enjoyed exploring the idea of instant stories frozen in a single moment.
Rise of the Goddess
His themes come from various sources. But most are from early experiences while attending Jewish synagogue. When Nimoy was 8 years old, his father gave him a stern warning about looking up during services. Of course, he could not resist the urge, and that’s when he saw the Rabbi making a V-shaped hand gesture. The peculiar image stuck and remained with him for years. It is now known as the Vulcan hand salute. However, the forbidden ritual he actually observed was referring to Shekhina. She is the all-mighty feminine manifestation of God. The Rabbi’s V-shaped hand gesture represents the Hebrew character, Shin and through the light of Shekhina humans can experience the Divine. According to mystical Jewish tradition, simply looking toward Shekhina’s direction will cost you your life. This revelation stayed with Nimoy and eventually gave him the inspiration for photographing the mystical goddess.
“Nimoy is a gnostic mystic—a radical spiritualist, indeed, a spiritual rebel. I am suggesting that Nimoy’s fascination with the female body involves an element of temptation as well as transcendence. The issue that Nimoy’s photographs subtly address is the transmutation of sexual desire into spiritual aspiration. It is Nimoy’s ability to convey woman’s many-sidedness—Shekhina and Succubus at once—that makes his photographs profound.” — Donald Kuspit
The Secrets that We Keep
Nimoy was prolific at photographing women. He was fascinated by the whole feminine experience, including pregnancy and birth. His models were usually photographed nude or partially nude and would often wear gauzy robes, prayer shawls, or sacred accessories wrapped around one arm. The images were marked by strong contrasting shadows and highlights. This unique lighting effect was inspired by the light-dark dichotomy of good and evil and materialism versus spirituality. With much of his influence derived from humans always being divided, he set out to illustrate the separation of the self. He photographed men and woman who have a private self and a public self and titled the series Secret Selves.
Live Long and Prosper
Leonard Nimoy was a true believer in Joseph Cambell’s ‘find your bliss.’ His photography is a reflection of someone willing to follow their own passion without compromise. Nimoy obviously had a fulfilling acting career, but photography was what truly touched his soul. Exploring the world through the lens of a camera gave him the ability to tell stories, many of which represent private memories from childhood. Leonard Nimoy left us with a significant contribution—an incredible array of intimate images.
Leonard Nimoy is a prime example of someone with intergalactic gifts and talent. Even after his acting career ended, he continued pursuing artistic interests. His passing leaves us all with a special offering—-everyone has a creative ability. As an artist, he wasn’t afraid of the judgment, and as a human, he just did what he did best, create. Looking at his photography gives new meaning to live long and prosper. Perhaps what he’s really sharing is we all get to live on through the things we create. And creating is all part of prospering.
Images courtesy of R. Michelson Galleries in Northhampton Massachusettes. Two and a half years prior to his passing, in the summer of 2012, Leonard Nimoy decided to organize his photographic oeuvre. He scanned and emailed the gallery owner 384 contact sheets containing 20-35 images each, totaling almost 10,000 shutter snaps. To see more of Leonard Nimoy’s work, we encourage you to visit the gallery’s site here.