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Matinee: Leonard Nimoy Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

13 December 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the sixty-third in our series of Saturday matinees today: Leonard Nimoy.

This 10-minute interview, which took place in his northern California home in 2008, begins with an interesting admission. Nimoy doesn't think of himself, he says, as a daily working photographer but "a conceptual artist who uses photography to express concepts."

He doesn't go out looking for pictures, that is, but comes up with a concept to photograph. Photography is simply his medium.

He remembers about being told, as a boy in synagogue, not to look when a certain blessing was being given. Years later, he asked a rabbi about it. Why can't you look?

You don't want to look, the rabbi explained, because the blessing is given by a deity who suddenly becomes present, giving off a powerful light that could, like the sun, damage you if you look at it. So you protect yourself by not looking.

Which made Nimoy think of images, what she might look like, what this light was.

That's how he introduces his photo book The Full Body Project, which occupied him at the time. It's a series of portraits of large bodied women.

In a 2007 interview with Scott Simon on NPR, Nimoy explained:

I think, in general, we are sort of conditioned to see a different body type as acceptable and maybe look away when the other body type arrives. It was my first introduction of that kind of work. And when I showed some of that work, there was a lot of interest. And it led me to a new consciousness about the fact that so many people live in body types that are not the type that's being sold by fashion models.

He had struggled to find a way to photograph the large body, finally coming up with a sculptural presentation.

And the photographs did come off looking like marble sculpture, and people were quite fascinated by it. I often heard the word beautiful about this very large unusual shape of a body.

The images, some of which are shown in the video, are indeed striking. "They are my own voice," he says, which makes this particularly figurative work his most rewarding. Nobody else is doing this, he notes.

He mentions Ruth Bernhard as an influence. But, he says, the problem was that Bernhard herself was doing Bernhard so there was no point in him doing Bernhard, too.

He admiringly remembers Robert Heineken, his professor at UCLA in the 1970s. Heineken, who started the photography program there, taught him how to think of photography as a medium for artistic expression. Use photography as an art form. Look for themes, not ideas. That all came from Heineken.

"The artistic eye can be awakened," Nimoy says. Maybe not in everyone, but if it's latent, "it can be developed."

He admits he has the luxury of not having to support his family with his photography. But he finds immense satisfaction in simply "creating an object." Making a picture is magic. "It's my creative outlet," he concludes.

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