2007 October 21
By RAY KELLY for The Republican MassLife.com
Leonard Nimoy is coming to Northampton not only to exhibit his latest photographic work, but to shoot 100 subjects for an upcoming project.
The 76-year-old "Star Trek" actor-turned-photographer will appear at R. Michelson Galleries in early November for an exhibit and to promote his new book, "The Full Body Project."
While in Northampton, Nimoy will photograph area people for "Who Do You Think You Are!," a series that focuses on self-perception. Subjects, dressed as how they see themselves, will be shot during five-minute sessions, Nimoy said in a telephone interview last week from his California home.
"I am going to shoot 100 portraits of people and who they think they are," Nimoy said. "It's all about identity."
Nimoy was intrigued by a Greek myth about the nature of humanity. According to legend, humans once had two heads, four arms and four legs, but were split in half by Zeus because the gods feared humans were too powerful.
"Since then, people have been searching out their lost half or identity," Nimoy said. "What I am saying is ... 'Show me the part that is missing.'"
People interested in being subjects for the project should visit the gallery's Web site, www.rmichelson.com
The fact that ancient text motivated Nimoy is not surprising. As a photographer he has found inspiration from a variety of sources. Childhood recollections of Judaic services inspired Nimoy to embark on "Shekhina," a series that explored the feminine side of God.
His latest exhibit, "The Full Body Project," is a collection of mostly nudes taken of obese women. It was sparked by a large female model, who approached Nimoy seven years ago during a West Coast exhibit of his work.
Nimoy recalled how the woman noted that she looked far different than the thinner models he used. She asked if he was interested in photographing her.
He agreed, but not without trepidation.
"I was nervous about it and I wanted to do her justice," Nimoy said. "I had never photographed a body like hers."
When Nimoy included her photographs in an exhibit, there was a buzz in the air, he said.
"Who is she? How did you find her? People were asking," he recalled. "I had stumbled into something that is part of our social environment."
Americans are obsessed with thinness and reject those who are overweight, he said. It is an obsession that is fostered by big business.
"We have a massive industry in this country selling women products to make them look a certain way," Nimoy said. "We have clothes, diets, pills and surgeries to make them 'look right.'"
The obsession about weight is less prevalent in Europe than here, Nimoy said. Spanish fashion shows have banned overly thin models from the catwalk. There have been calls for similar bans in Italy and England.
Nimoy believes change will come in America, but it is a slow, uphill battle.
"In our culture, women are congratulated for losing weight. It's one of the highest compliments you can pay - 'Oh, you've lost weight.'"
Selections from "The Full Body Project" were first exhibited at R. Michelson Galleries two years ago and reaction was positive, according to owner Richard S. Michelson.
"I am actually amazed at how little negative reaction there has been. I attribute this in part to the gallery setting, and the fact that we are in Northampton and our audience is, in many ways, self selecting," Michelson said. "We did get some well-reasoned negative reaction to his 'Shekhina' project about the blurring of sexuality and religion, but it was of an academic nature, and a minuscule minority."
He added, "When we first hung a sampling of 'Maximum Beauty,' I overheard a few reductive 'Is Nimoy into fat chicks' comments from men when the gallery room was first entered, or women talking about the health effects of being overweight; but in fact the fun nature of the work and the quality of the photographs seem to shut people up by the time they leave ... In my opinion, Leonard has struck just the perfect tone of voice - fun and funny without any hint of 'making fun.' He's found a way to praise with both dignity and whimsy."
For his part, Nimoy said he was curious, but never worried, about public reaction.
"I think the images tell the story," he said. "Art should stimulate thinking about the world around us."
Nimoy studied photography at the University of California in Los Angeles after gaining fame on "Star Trek" in the late 1960s. He achieved success as a director of such films as "Three Men and a Baby," "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" and "The Good Mother."
In recent years, Nimoy has directed his attention to photography and charitable work with his wife, Susan.
He has not taken on significant acting jobs in several years. However, he has agreed to reprise his role of the Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock in a new big screen "Star Trek" adventure directed by J.J. Abrams ("Lost," "Mission Impossible III").
Nimoy is slated to begin filming his part in December. It marks the first time he has played Spock since a two-part episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in 1991.
"It's interesting and challenging," Nimoy said of playing the character 16 years later. "If you accept the fact that I am older and so is the character, that is a start."
The return to "Star Trek" does not mean Nimoy is willing to abandon photography and resume his successful acting or directing career.
"Photography gives me the opportunity to come across an idea and put it into action now," he said. "There are no Hollywood studios, scripts to approve or huge budgets. "I have the opportunity to create art now."