Q & A With . . . Leonard Nimoy
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alt2001 October 07

By Robert K. Elder 

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Although best known as an actor/director--most notably in his role as Vulcan science officer Spock in the first "Star Trek" series--Leonard Nimoy has spent three years devoted to photography. 

Nimoy describes his latest project as a "spiritual journey" in which he explores the Jewish concept of Shekhina, or the feminine presence of God. Nimoy will be talking about his life and photography at 3 p.m. Saturday Nov. 3 in the Rubloff Auditorium at the Art Institute of Chicago.

 

Q. What is the link between the Vulcan hand gesture and your current photography project?

A. Several years ago, I was working on some black and white studies of the female figure. Simultaneously I had done some hand images springing from the three pointed hand gesture that I introduced into "Star Trek" as a Vulcan salute -- which comes from a Cabalistic and Hebraic blessing, the shin. Although I had been introduced to that gesture as a kid, there was something I still didn't know about it.

For example, when that blessing is used in a high holiday service, the mythology tells us that at the moment the Shekhina enters the sanctuary to bless the congregation. It's a mystical moment.

And that led me to putting that hand gesture with the female figure, since it has to do with the female presence of God. About two or three years ago I started working on that concept, and the images I'm putting together now will be published as a book next year ("Shekhina," Umbrage Editions).

Q. What are some of the concepts in the work?

A. The major conflict is between spirituality and materialism. There are other concepts that lurk in the area as well. For example, I'm conscious of the fact that in one of David's psalms he says, about God, `Thou didst clothe thyself with light as with a garment.' And light as clothing is part of what I'm doing with these photographs.

Q. What kind of resistance have you felt regarding your role as celebrity and your pursuits as an artist?

A. I don't know, it's hard. It's akin to the question I used to get years ago, `Do you think you're typecast?' You don't get a call from somebody saying, `We're not going to hire you because you're typecast.' So, it's hard to measure. I realize that I am much better known as an actor/director.

But my credentials as a photographer are real. I started studying photography at UCLA in 1970 under a man who lives in Chicago now, a brilliant artist and teacher named Robert Heinecken. Heinecken was a great motivator, and I think my work jumped forward from that time on and I'm still affected by his teaching, his approach to photography and have always taken it very, very seriously. I'm not frivolous about it.

Q. In a line from your biography, you wrote that the character of Spock was reflected in your own search for values, ethics and insight. What have you learned then, from your photography?

A. It's a two-pronged issue here. The first is a creative process, which excites me whenever I get in touch with it. The other is the spirituality of it. This particular project puts me in touch with my spirituality, my sense of the spirituality that surrounds us, which some of us, if we're lucky, get in touch with.

Q. You use nudes in your work. Do you think there's a link between the spiritual and the sensual?

A. Sure. I don't think, to my knowledge, that the Shekhina has even been portrayed before. I haven't found images of the Shekhina anywhere; I have asked and I have searched. I'm exploring based on my own psyche. I don't have any references here, I don't have any influences here. And coming out of my psyche is what you see. And for me, the woman is female, feminine sensuous, alive, vibrant, spiritual, protective, in conflict, struggling -- all those things.

 
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