Leonard Nimoy is known to most people as the half Human/half
Vulcan character of Spock in the Star Trek television and
film series. With logical and analytical approaches to situations
throughout the series, Spock often represented How a mind
free of emotion would react to various stimuli. in a recently
published book of photography, Nimoy approaches the subject
of Shekhina, a feminine Judaic figure of god, with a style
similar to his celluloid alter ego. Through the use of black
and white photos representing, "the Light of order versus
the dark of chaos," Nimoy's Sometimes-nude representation
of Shekhina is a controversial, but analytical approach
to a being described as being "a feminine approach to the
divine." Recently, outcry from Jewish groups over the book's
portrayal of Hebrew religious objects in photos of nude
women lead to his dismissal as a speaker at a Seattle Jewish
Asunder Press's Lance Vargas
recently had the opportunity to interview Nimoy about his
55-picture book. Transcripts from the interview are below.
The Shekhina in your book is depicted as being a very sensual
being. Why have you chosen to represent a figure of god
as a woman who is sometimes half clothed and other times
Nimoy: I made a determination
that this should be a feminine being and that there be no
question about it, that she be feminine in every sense of
the word, that she be a woman in every sense of the word.
I even included a spiritual pregnancy and a spiritual birth
in a couple of the photographs near the end of the book.
I see no reason to suspect that the Shekhina needs to worry
about what she's wearing, and I wanted to have the freedom
to explore that. I see no reason to have the Shekhina be
an idea that lives up in the clouds. This is the Shekhina
that god created to live among humans. Based on that concept,
the photographs reflect that thinking. That she is here
among humans traveling constantly, is available everywhere,
is a fully-formed feminine creature that I have sought out
with a camera. Her power comes from the spiritual Light
that emanates from her. I see her as compassionate, understanding,
supportive, empathic and definitely feminine. I have seen
pictures of women ordained as rabbis who were so totally
clothed and covered that you would have to read the caption
to know that they were women. I don't understand that. I
just don't understand it. it makes me uncomfortable and
it makes me unhappy, frankly, to think that we have to hide
gender for some unknown reason. I guess some people are
uncomfortable with the idea of gender in a spiritual sense.
I'm not. I'm not uncomfortable with it.
you think that the people who feel that way are mostly men?
Nimoy: It's entirely possible
that you are right about that. There is definitely a feminist
bend in this book. So far, whatever controversy has come
up has been men's uncomfortableness with a female presence
of god. Women have totally embraced the book.
You say in the inset of the book, that "color cant do it"
in reference to your choice of black and white photos. Nimoy:
The book is very much about dark and light. The images and
the photos are very much about dark and light, the light
of spirituality versus the dark of materialism, the light
of good versus the dark of evil, the light of order versus
the dark of chaos, and to me those are all black and white
issues. High contrast creating drama. Color to me is very
beautiful, but not as poetic or dramatic as black and white.
Your pictures attempt to explain a relationship you have
with the Shekhina. How could you sum that relationship up
Nimoy: I am very comfortable
with this being. I enjoy the idea that I am exploring her,
that I'm aware of her. I had this extraordinary experience
years ago, and I think I wrote about it in the book. When
I was a kid about 8 or 9 years old I remember standing during
the high holiday service with my father and my brother and
my grandfather in the men's section of the synagogue. Women
were separated and were kept upstairs on the balcony. It's
a very patriarchal religion in its origins. And being blessed
by these gentlemen up there who were using this hand gesture
out over the congregation, which I later appropriated as
a Vulcan salute in Star Trek. But at time, my father said
to me, don't look. And in fact the entire congregation had
their eyes covered and their heads covered with their prayer
shawls, their eyes covered with their hands or their eyes
shut. And I snuck a peek and saw these guys doing this gesture.
And I was entranced by that and I thought there was something
magical going on here. But it wasn't until six or seven
years ago and I was having a conversation with my rabbi
and told him the story and I said I didn't know why we were
supposed to look. He said your not supposed to look because
the mythology tells us that during that benediction the
Shekhina enters the sanctuary and blesses the congregation
and the sight of the Shekhina is so powerful, the light
is so powerful, that you might not survive it if you saw
it. That's why you cover your eyes to protect yourself.
I have been caught up with that idea ever since, what this
might look like to see the light to experience the Shekhina.
And I've had a couple remarkable coincidences come up since
then. For example, just the other day, I caught a rerun
of Raiders of the Lost Ark and the last five minutes of
that movie I suddenly realized that when the Ark of the
Covenant is in control of the Nazis and they've got Harrisan
Ford and Karen Allen captured and they go to open the Ark
and a spirit starts to rise out of the Ark and Harrison
Ford says to Karen Allen, "Close your eyes, don't look,
no matter what happens, keep your eyes shut." I never knew
what that was all about and sure enough, out comes this
female spirit and out come these darts of light that shoot
out. And all the Nazis who are looking at it are incinerated.
And Harrisan Ford and Karen Allen survive because they are
not looking at it. Well, I didn't know what that was all
about when i saw the movie because it was years ago, but
now it resonates with me. And I understand what this mythology
was all about, but now I know. Harrison Ford knew you weren't
supposed to look at the Shekhina. I don't know where he
got the information, but he knew. So this whole idea of
this fantastic spiritual light and energy that emanated
from her has intrigued me for years now and I have been
trying to capture it in these photographs. There is this
mythology that tells us this spiritual light was scattered
throughout the universe in bits and pieces during creation.
That life was supposed to be gathered in vessels and that
the vessels couldn't contain it and broke and all the spiritual
light broke, creating chaos and leaving room for evil to
enter into the universe. And that was when all the spiritual
light is collected by mankind and with the help of the Shekhina,
the universe would be healed. So I see this as a healing
process. Trying to collect these shards of light, trying
to help this process along.
Did the models know what you were doing and how did
they feel being depicted as a god-like being?
Nimoy: Yes, I described exactly
what we were after. I told them exactly what the book was
about. And when I had photographs from a previous session
to show them, I did. Because the photographs were done from
a period of over seven years. Using eight or nine different
models so as the work began to evolve with each session
I would show the work to the models and explain what we
Speak about photographic devices. Some of the photos are
very grainy and others are very clear. Why did you choose
Nimoy: All of them are techniques
I use in the darkroom or in a shooting. I do my own printing.
And I'm trying to find a poetic way of dealing with this
subject matter. Some of the photos are very realistic. A
few are almost candid shots as though I was just kind out
in the garden and there she was and I turned my camera and
grabbed a picture of her. Some of them are more dreamlike.
As if they came out of unconscious ideas and then developed
and dreamed up and then gone into the darkroom to print.
So some have a more dreamlike quality than others.
How close is your interpretation of Shekhina to the traditional
Nimoy: Frankly, I have not
seen any photographic essay on the subject before. I don't
think its ever been done before, I think there are some
drawings. And there are dances and music on the subject
of the Shekhina and a lot of writing. If you enter Shekhina
on any search engine, you'll get all the material you need
to keep it going for years. But I have never seen a photographic
essay on her before. Not every one is going to be happy
about it either (laughs).
Vargas: Many times,
science fiction takes situations here on Earth and places
them far out in space, with a changed structure, so that
we can better deal with it, removed from it's natural occurence.
How often was this practiced in Star Trek?
Nimoy: In Star Trek, we did
it constantly. Some of our best scripts were writers who
had a personal experience of some kind or had very strong
feelings about something that was happening in our society.
Contemporary concerns which they would then translate into
a story that takes places the 23rd century. Us exploring
some other planet that had an overpopulation problem, or
a racial problem, or atmospheric conditions, or overheating
of a planet, or whatever it was, distribution of food or
lack of disease control, various cultural issues we were
dealing with. We did that constantly and some of our best
scripts had those kind of thematic ideas.
Is there anything I have left out of the interview that
you may want to communicate to the readers?
I am looking forward to talking to as many people as possible.
I'd like to get some reactions. I hope to get some reaction
out of people and have an interesting conversation. Ask
me some tough questions.