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05/03/2004: Stuff That Does't Suck Stuff That Doesn't Suck

Leonard Nimoy envisions God's female counterpart in gallery exhibit
''I take my work very seriously,''
from Daily Hampshire Gazette [massive registration required]

NORTHAMPTON - An exhibition of black-and-white photographs at R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton in May will likely attract notice for two reasons.

For one, the provocative pictures have ignited a debate over whether sexuality is appropriate in religious imagery. For another, the photographs are by actor Leonard Nimoy, who is known especially for his portrayal of Spock in the 1960s-era television series Star Trek.

Twenty of Nimoy's photographs will be on view at the gallery from today through May 31, with an artist's reception Sunday from noon to 1 p.m. Nimoy will attend the gathering, which is open to the public.

Called ''Shekhina,'' the show features the dramatically lit figures of nude and semi-nude women, including those clad only in ritual Jewish prayer items. Nimoy also published the photographs in a book of the same name in 2002.

The show was organized after gallery owner Richard Michelson discovered Nimoy was coming to western Massachusetts in May to visit the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst and some of the state's art institutes.

Nimoy and his wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, head a foundation that offers grants for artists-in-residence programs to museums and other arts organizations, including MASS MoCA in North Adams and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Michelson's manager Paul Gulla said the gallery is excited about showing Nimoy's work.

''We've known of his photographs for some time,'' he said. ''I think they make great photographs as figure studies. He's dealing with the feminine nature of God - and sexuality is part of that. It's fine photography.''

In an interview from his home in Los Angeles, Nimoy said he was 13 when he began taking photographs with a Kodak Autographic camera, and developing them in the bathroom of his family's small apartment in Boston, where he grew up.

He's been snapping pictures ever since. He studied photography while a student at the University of California, Los Angeles and, despite his success in Hollywood, considered switching his career from acting to photography in the early '70s.

Along with his work in television, film and theater _Nimoy appeared in several well-known TV series in the late '50s and early '60s, including ''Wagon Train'' and ''Perry Mason,'' to name a few, as well as feature films like ''Deathwatch'' - he has gained recognition as a photographer since his first show in 1973.

''It's always been a part of my life,'' said Nimoy. ''I carried a camera wherever I went.''

The photographs he will exhibit here in May seek to explore the beliefs surrounding Shekhina, a feminine word in Hebrew that denotes the visible and audible manifestations of God on Earth. In general, the term has come to represent God's feminine counterpart, an advocate for the sick and poor, a kind of mother figure to Israel.

Growing up in an orthodox Jewish household, Nimoy said he learned about Shekhina when he was eight, after attending a service at his synagogue where its spiritual leaders blessed the congregation with a prayer that called on Shekhina's name.

''It was an exciting, mystical, chilling experience, he said, with chanting and shouting that recalled a Christian revivalist meeting.

''My father said don't look,'' said Nimoy. As he found out later, traditionally congregation members are instructed to hide their eyes to protect themselves from Shekhina's blinding light.

But the 8-year-old Nimoy stole a peek.

He saw congregation leaders with their heads covered, their arms outstretched and their fingers arranged in a splayed configuration. Years later on the set of Star Trek, Nimoy recalled the split-fingered salute when he suggested to the show's director that Vulcans have their own, distinctive form of greeting. The gesture became as legendary among television viewers as Spock's pointed Vulcan ears.

Nimoy said the Shekhina photographs came from a long-time interest in the female figure and his desire to introduce Judaism into his art.

The sexual nature of the photographs have raised criticism in some Jewish quarters. Nimoy canceled a talk in 2002 to the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle after members raised concerns about showing the photographs. But Nimoy said he believes his work follows a long religious tradition that combines spirituality with sexuality.

''I take my work very seriously,'' he said.

Tuesday the 4th of May, awiggins noted:

Mmm... Boobies

Tuesday the 4th of May, Abe Froman noted:

Well, I don't know 'bout you, but I just found my new religion!!!

Seriously though, it must be nice to be famous and be able to take pictures of naked ladies and call it art.

Tuesday the 4th of May, chief science officer noted:

Wednesday the 5th of May, West Ender noted:

West End of Boston represent! Leonard Nimoy grew up there- who put the bomp in the bompshebompbomp