NORTHAMPTON, MA -- Leonard Nimoy's latest photographic exhibition, "Secret Selves," reveals the hidden identities of his subjects.
Leonard Nimoy's legendary portrayal of the half-Vulcan, half-human Spock on the Star Trek series defined his career, but Nimoy’s artistic prowess has reached far beyond the influential role. He’s a director, a published poet, a songwriter, and a photographer. His projects range from directing Three Men And A Baby (1987) to recording a series of albums that began with “Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space” (1967). And in over 50 years since first landing the Star Trek role, Spock is never too many steps behind.
“I have an identity issue, there’s no question about it.” He tells Alicia Anstead in a recent interview on The Callie Crossley Show. “I wrote a book called ‘I am not Spock’ and then twenty years later I wrote a book called ‘I am Spock.’ I’d say that’s an identity issue …”
After his official retirement from acting this past April, he’s turned his focus to his other love – photography. His latest exhibition, “Secret Selves,” is a new incarnation of a familiar exploration of identity. For the project, Nimoy gathered people from Western Massachusetts for a photo shoot, asking that they arrive dressed as a part of their self that they normally keep hidden from view.
“I’m so intrigued with the idea that the way we present ourselves to the world isn’t necessarily all of us, that there are other identities that we carry with us that sometimes slip out,” he explains to Anstead. Nimoy is part director, part acting coach as he instructs each subject during the photo shoot, from the psychoanalyst who brings along a chainsaw, to a photographer who arrives naked and covered in mud as an “avatar of the earth.”
During the photo shoots, he attempts to help his subjects leave photographic conventions and embody the person they arrive ready to become.
When “you’re being photographed at a wedding party, or at a birthday party,” he explains, “and someone says, ‘the three of you, get together I want to take a picture.’ Who are you when you show yourself to the camera in that case? … I was trying to get passed that, and get to something much more intimate and personal.”
When asked about his own Secret Selves, Nimoy says his other self came out in the open long ago.
“If I’m walking down the street and I hear somebody yell, ‘Hey, Spock,’ I’m the guy who turns around.”
On his father's response to his career choice:
“My parents were immigrants. My brother and I were first generation born here. And what my dad knew about acting or actors was a kind of primitive, unenlightened version of what he remembered from the old country. So when I told him I wanted to be an actor, he said, ‘well you’ll be hanging around with gypsies and vagabonds,’ and I thought that was kind of colorful, actually. Then he gave me the only advice that he ever offered. He said ‘learn to play the accordion. He said ‘you can always make a living with the accordion, you can play weddings and bar mitzvahs and dances.’ I didn’t take his advice.”
On what he might have done if he hadn’t gone into acting:
I’ve sometimes thought I might enjoy doing psychiatry or psychology work. I’ve always been interested in the human condition, people, what they think and how they function and why they function in how they function what goes wrong occasionally or often.”
On playing Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof:
“The Tevye character came relatively easily to me because I grew up with people who had led that life, who had led the Shtetl village life in Russia. …And I spent a lot of time in Synagogues, so the lilt of the language was there for me, and the internal, what I thought was a bubbling laughter that was available even in bad times. I could see my mother go from laughter to tears in the same sentence, in the same sentence!”
On the funny way his celebrity shows up:
“My wife and I were leaving a theatrical event in Los Angeles long ago, walking to the parking lot along with Tom Hanks. And a young man recognized him, and came running up with a camera and said “Mr. Hanks, Mr. Hanks, can I have my picture taken with you.” And Mr. Hanks said ‘sure, who’s gonna take the picture.’ And then the young man recognized me. And he said ‘oh, Mr. Nimoy, you’re a wonderful photographer, will you take the picture.’ … I loved it, I thought that’s perfect, that’s absolutely perfect. And I took the picture, and now that young man has a photo with Tom Hanks taken by Leonard Nimoy.”
On the Vulcan Salute in Star Trek:
“It comes from a priestly blessing … In the Orthodox synagogue which I attended with my family on Chamber street and on North Russell street in the West End, when I was eight or nine years old I saw these men do that gesture towards the audience with both hands as they chanted and shouted in this passionate shout and cry, this prayer. And I was struck by it and I learned how to do it with my hands. I didn’t realize it would come in handy some day, pardon the pun.”
Comment on This Article
News updates from WGBH