Shoot The Centerfold: Exclusive Interview With Leonard Nimoy by Jarmo Pohamieni
Interviews

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2014 February 22

By Jarmo Pohjamieni for Shoot The Centerfold

Link

Thanks to R. Michelson Galleries

As I’m traveling down the road on the way to an appointment, the phone rings. This in and of itself is nothing new, my phone’s constantly ringing, but when I answer, a deep, cultured voice says “hello” and asks if it would be okay to chat. Normally, I would just ask for them to call me back until I get home, but this time, I pull over, turn off the car and pay serious attention for on the other end of the call is none other than Mr. Spock, himself – Leonard Nimoy.
I had recently contacted him about an interview for STC, owing to the fact that he’s a photographer as well and getting an interview with him would be a major score for STC and it’s fans. He’s ready to answer some questions, so trying to be as professional as I can, I grab the nearest scrap of paper I can find – an old coffee shop receipt for a long-gone cup of coffee – and a grungy pen which has obviously seen better days.
We begin to chat, all the while my pen is threatening to run out of ink and there’s only so much info you can put on the back of a Starbucks’ receipt. While trying not to sound like the fan-boy that I am, I discover that although Mr. Nimoy has led this incredible life of legendary international fame and created an astounding body of work, he had the same humble, basic beginnings all photographers share, regardless of their origin, background or location. What followed was an interesting conversation with the person we’ve all come to know as an extremely “logical” and fascinating individual.

Interview:
STC: Like the rest of us, you started out as a young photographer, using a simple camera and a homemade enlarger. What was the spark that started it all?

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LN: I grew up in Boston’s east side and started photography when I was just a boy, no older than thirteen or so. I started taking pictures of family members, as all photographers do, so and my interests grew from there. What really interested me was the darkroom process because there was something magical about it. Back then, film and chemicals were relatively inexpensive. You could get them all – developer, stop bath and fixer – for about 25¢. For an extra 10¢, they would throw in some paper as well.
As for the camera, I stared with a Kodak Autographic. They called it that because it had space on the back to make notes, but I never really used it as such. It was a bellows-type camera, so taking the information I found in a DIY magazine, I was able to convert it into an enlarger, using a metal lunchbox with a hole in the bottom as its housing and a small bulb for a light source. Crude, yes, but very effective. I still have a photograph I took of my grandfather using this camera/enlarger combination. I truly enjoyed watching the prints develop; it gave me a sense of artistic accomplishment and the confidence to continue my photography.

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Photo: Seth Kaye Photography – Image courtesy of R.Michelson Galleries — www.RMichelson.com

STC: Do you think today’s novice photographers are missing out on a unique experience, not being able to develop their own film and images, or is photo-editing software an amicable compromise?
LN: Yes, I do. While I will be the first to admit I was hesitant and it was difficult for me to make the switch from film to digital, but the transfer was made easier because the fundamentals of photography were already present. Black and white was a very big thing when I started photography. It gave everyone an opportunity to create, much like the digital age has provided new – and old – photographers more control over their work. That being said, I‘m happy that digital allows me to see my work instantly.
 
STC: Which camera and lens of choice for an average project?
LN: Regretfully, I am no longer able to take photographs, due to having developed COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease]. However, I also believe the problem was exacerbated by my long-term exposure to the chemicals I used in my darkroom. I had a habit of smoking while I was developing and printing, and after many years of doing so there was bound to be consequences.
But to answer the question, I believe that a camera is only a tool to be used as a means to convey expression. I do my best work when my attention is completely devoted to my subject. Of course, quality tools tend to make your work easier, but not necessarily better.

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Photo: Seth Kaye Photography – Image courtesy of R.Michelson Galleries — www.RMichelson.com

STC: Did you continue being a photographer during your early acting days? Was it difficult to find time for it, since you spent most of the time on set?
LN: Not at all. Photography is very much like any faith – I hesitate to call it a religion but the semblance is there. It allows us to explore and analyze not only the world that surrounds us, but also our inner thoughts in which we may find the answers we seek, or perhaps, new questions yet to be asked.
 
STC: What’s the best way to make a subject feel comfortable in front of the camera, especially for a book project?
LN: Let them be themselves. Even when working with paid, professional models, there is always individuality underneath the exterior, no matter how polished the surface. Provide acceptance. People always feel most comfortable amongst those who show them appreciation, encouragement and support.
 
STC: We all have our mentors. Who were your influences?
LN: One of my earliest influences in photography was Robert Heinecken. He was very strong on theme; have a core subject, then adhere to the main concept. To be a photographic artist, shooting pictures randomly and at anything that one might come across does little when it comes to giving direction to your work. Heinecken was adamant about sticking to a thematic “thrust” that keeps the main topic or subject at the forefront. If you choose to shoot because something is happening in front of your camera, you have moved on to photojournalism.

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Photo: Seth Kaye Photography – Image courtesy of R.Michelson Galleries — www.RMichelson.com

STC: In both of your books, “Shekhina” (2002) and “Full Body Project” (2009), what was your inspiration? Was it more of a personal project, or was it something you wanted to share on a grander scale?
LN: While both books centered on the common theme of beauty, its interpretation was more direct. In the past and during the Shekhina project, I photographed models who were professional people. It was pointed out to me that these pictures always fell under the conventional interpretation of beauty due to the body type being within range of the current societal consensus.
They were always described as “beautiful” – it was the adjective I heard most when people described my work. While the images were indeed beautiful, the women as they appeared were allowed no personal identities or individuality.
While I was working on the “Full Body Project” a model commented that ideas of beauty and sexuality are “culture bound”—that these ideas are not universal or fixed, and that they change and fluctuate depending on place and time. I find too many people suffer because the body they live in is not the body you find in the fashion magazines.
In “Shekhina,” which is a Talmudic term for the visible and audible manifestation of divine female presence on Earth, I wanted to capture the Jewish scriptural mythology of a softer, empathetic feminine counterpart to God dwelling among us in physical form, ministering to the sick and comforting the destitute. From my perspective, sexuality and spirituality are not diametrically opposed. Sexuality has always played a resilient part of the teaching and culture of religious practice, according to the signs throughout the writings and history of Judaism.

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Photo: Seth Kaye Photography – Image courtesy of R.Michelson Galleries — www.RMichelson.com


STC: You mostly shoot in black and white. Do you ever shoot in color?
LN: I shoot black and white because it brings back memories of times long past. As a young man, I did my own developing and printing and always enjoyed going into the darkroom and experimenting with a print. There’s something poetic about it because it lends itself to a reality and life of its own. Of course, there is an appropriate time for color, especially when it is specific to the individual subject matter. My “Secret Selves” is a good example of color being necessary to express individuality. I say “poetry” because black and white captures primarily the artist’s emotions, while color renders an amalgam of both the photographer’s visual interpretation and the emotional interpolation of the subject.
 
STC: Do you have any words of advice for photographers who would like to undertake photographic projects of their own?
LN: Concentrate first on the quality. Stop worrying about your equipment, the nature of your work, and trying to get the latest and greatest gear. Master your equipment, but most of all, master your thoughts and search for the reason to be taking pictures.
Don’t just ask how, ask why!
Acting isn’t much different, nor is any other creative endeavor. Learn the basics, master them, then start on the more difficult aspects. Hone your strengths and skills, know your weaknesses and work on them.
Every photographer has to find his or her own way and it’s a life-long search. Ask yourself; what do you want to do with your work? What do you want the world to know about you? What’s out there waiting for you? Are you ready for it? Everything you need, all your answers, already lie within you. It’s up to you to take what’s yours. LLAP
(note: LLAP = Live Long and Prosper.)

 


2014 Nimoy press release
 
LEONARD NIMOY- BACK TO BOSTON
Leonard Nimoy grew up in Boston, where he first experienced the magic of making photographic images at age 13, developing them in the small apartment’s family bathroom—turned darkroom. Nimoy continued his photographic explorations throughout his life, studying at UCLA under Robert Heineken in the early 1970s. He later received an “artist in residence” appointment at the American Academy in Rome.
Mr. Nimoy’s photography is included in many museum collections, including The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Judah L. Magnes Museum, The LA County Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum of NY, The New Orleans Museum of Fine Art and The Hammer Museum. His most recent show at MassMOCA was one of ArtNet’s 10 Best exhibitions of 2010.
 
Now Mr. Nimoy’s photographs are coming back to Boston with 3 concurrent exhibitions spanning 60 years of work.
Boston University will exhibit Secret Selves  in their Sherman Gallery from Wednesday, March 19 – Friday, May 9, 2014.
The Sherman Gallery is located on the second floor of the George Sherman Union (775 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA
Griffin Museum will exhibit Shekhina in their Griffin Museum at Digital Silver Imaging gallery from March 20th  to May 8th
9 Brighton St., Belmont MA 02478 Tel. 781-729-1158
555 Gallery will exhibit Eye Contact  from March 27 to May 3 555 E 2nd Street Unit 1  Boston, MA 02127.
And if you are in Western Massachusetts please stop by R. Michelson Galleries 132 Main Street Northampton MA to see a selection from these photographic projects, as well as Full Body Project, Dance, Self Portraits, Hands, and the Black and White Series.
 
Books are also available
Mr. Nimoy is represented by R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton MA where he has had numerous one-man exhibitions.
For further information or to schedule press interviews please contact Richard Michelson, R. Michelson Galleries at 413-586-3964
To view Mr. Nimoy’s photographs online please visit www.LeonardNimoyPhotography.com

 
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