The Arty Semite

Slideshow: Leonard Nimoy's 'Secret Selves'

By Abigail Jones

  • Print
  • Share Share
Wiki Commons

If you had a lost or hidden other half, who would it be? A rocker? A mad scientist? Someone sluttier or cooler than yourself?

Fantasy comes to life in Leonard Nimoy’s “Secret Selves,” a collection of 26 moving, often provocative photographs on display at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art through January 2, 2011. Nimoy, who will forever be immortalized as Spock from “Star Trek,” is also an accomplished photographer, and his most recent exhibition explores the landscape of human imagination and yearning — that desire lurking inside all of us to be someone else.

Nimoy’s inspiration came from a passage in Plato’s “Symposium,” which posits that humans were once double-sided creatures, cut in two by angry gods and left to search for their lost halves. “I’m particularly looking for people to surprise me and possibly themselves,” Nimoy wrote to Richard Michelson, his longtime dealer who owns the Northampton, Massachusetts gallery where the 2007 photo shoot took place. “I’d like to ask them, ‘Who do you think you are?’”

Whether intrigued by Nimoy’s celebrity or the lure of playing dress up, around 100 people showed up at the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton to answer that very question. As Michael Kusek (a public relations marketer turned momentary tough guy) told the New York Times, “There he was with that voice that has been in the background culturally my whole life. I blew my cool,” he said. “When I was a kid, I was always doing Spock. I can still do the eyebrow thing.” None of Nimoy’s subjects were photographed waving the Vulcan hand salute (which, incidentally, was inspired by the Jewish Priestly Blessing), but everyone — social workers and businessmen, bus drivers and clergy, a former junior league president and a psychotherapist — came with an agenda: a secret self that he or she hoped to set free.

With his face contorted into a rocker’s grimace, Scott, the children’s book illustrator, kills it on an electric guitar, his pale legs spitting out from a pair of bulging tighty-whities. “I play music for preschoolers… but that’s a bunch of screaming kids, not a bunch of screaming girls.”

David, a rabbi with glasses and a tidy beard, lights two candles while dressed in black jeans, a yarmulke and leather vest. “At synagogue I normally wear a suit and tie, but I try to remember that somehow underneath I am wearing leather.”

The quotes accompany the subjects’ first names and professions, adding insight and context to the images. There are plenty of wistful poses and exposed body parts, yet some of the most powerful photos examine and refute our notions of sexuality. In one, thick folds of brown, tattooed skin cascade down Valdorise’s naked torso. “I’ve always called myself the secret whore, a character based on what I’d do if I could,” her quote reads. In another, it’s impossible not to stare, because Aimee’s breasts sag with alarming determination, enormous and veined and pierced by shiny sliver bars. Her body is a testament to her work as a tattoo artist and body piercer, and as she stands there shirtless, wearing baggy jeans and suspenders (or is that a black leather belt?), everything about her screams no, that can’t be a beard and mustache growing on her face. But there they are. With a Mona Lisa smirk, she stares at the camera as if she knows we are staring back at her. “I like being a girl,” her quote reads. “No one knows I am a woman, let alone a lesbian. My beard is natural, there is no imbalance.”

In Nimoy’s photographs we find complicated, ordinary men and women. They are beautiful and sexual, confused and searching, and as they pose against a blank white backdrop, their fantasies suddenly have space to breathe.

Watch a slideshow from ‘Secret Selves’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Secret Selves, Richard Michaelson, Plato, Photography, New York Times, Michael Kusek, Mass MoCa, Leonoard Nimoy, Exhibits, Spock, Star Trek

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.