Though known for playing Spock on the sci-fi TV show Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy, who died at age 83 on February 27, also had one foot in the art world. He studied with conceptual photographer Robert Heinecken when he was at UCLA. He collected art with his wife, Susan. (The couple recently lent a sink drawing to MoMA’s Robert Gober retrospective.) And he even made his own art—Nimoy’s photography is currently in the collections of LACMA, MASS MoCA, the Jewish Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.
One series of work that Nimoy completed was called “Secret Selves.” For these photographs, Nimoy, ever the humanist, asked sitters to reveal a hidden part of themselves. In September of that year, Jeremy D. Goodwin spoke to Nimoy about “Secret Selves.” What was Nimoy’s secret self? The answer was hardly surprising. Goodwin’s article is reprinted in full below.—Alex Greenberger
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
Who do you think you are? That’s what artist and actor Leonard Nimoy asked the subjects of “Secret Selves” before shooting their full-length color portraits. Twenty-five photographs from the series are up at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, through December 31.
Nimoy’s concept—subjects appearing as the hidden or missing part of themselves—sprang from his fascination with Aristophenes’s suggestion, as a character in Plato’s Symposium, that humans were once double-sided creatures. Zeus cleaved everyone in half, the story goes, leaving humans perpetually incomplete.
“I was struck by the idea that there is a lost, or fantasy, or hidden self, that some people get in touch with and some never do,” Nimoy says.
Working with the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Massachusetts, Nimoy issued a call for local portrait models willing to be photographed as their “secret selves.” Volunteers arrived at the gallery wearing costumes and bearing props. Nimoy chatted with each subject, then guided his or her pose in an individual session.
As Nimoy held her hand, Natalie Crawford nervously told him she had got out of a sexless marriage and would be disrobing in front of someone for the first time in years. R. Michelson’s gallery manager, Paul Gulla, donned a mud-smeared white T-shirt and blue jeans and stared defiantly at the camera, assuming the identity of John Henry, the American folk legend who outpaced a steam-powered drill with a sledgehammer. (Before snapping, Nimoy boomed out a few lines of a John Henry–themed folk song.) Amanda-Jean Ward described herself as the daughter of a pastor who, when growing up, “had to be mature. So now is my time to play.” She posed as a dinosaur, in a costume she had fashioned out of a green sweatshirt.
Nimoy insists his own inner self is no secret at all. “When I stepped into the Spock character, I had to find a whole other side of myself in order to manifest this other personality from within me,” he says of signature role on Star Trek. “So my secret self has been public for 45 years. It may sound like a glib answer, but it’s the best I can give you without lying down on a couch for several months.”