We all have our memories and experiences of the man, the sometimes-alien, the legendary–Leonard Nimoy. Some know him only as Mr. Spock, and that’s okay, but Mr. Nimoy was a man of many talents. Yesterday, I reflected on all he has meant to me and realized that he has profoundly affected my life in many ways.
In my college years, my boyfriend and I discovered a mutual love for science fiction and devoured all three seasons of Star Trek and the subsequent movies on Netflix pretty quickly together.
Pretty much every free night we had was this.
Our fledgling relationship grew stronger over pizza and tribbles, making fun of Kirk’s ripped shirt or Spock’s too-heavy makeup, and quoting our favorite lines from the show (“He’s dead, Jim”). And though we first met because of STAR WARS (that’s a story for another day), somewhere along the Enterprise’s journey through the universe, we managed to fall in love.
I remember the moment, in 2011, when I first heard that Leonard Nimoy was going to be giving a lecture at Boston University, the very place I was just about to graduate from that May. I couldn’t believe it. SPOCK? At my school? I rushed over to the box office as fast as I could, calling my boyfriend along the way.
When the day came we waited patiently in the huge line forming at the student union. It started at the exhibition room and trailed all the way down the stairs and out into the fresh air outside. All sorts of people had been drawn to the event: Alternative girls with pink hair and thigh-high striped socks, professors fresh out of class, middle aged couples, and of course, us. We found seats near the middle of the audience.
I was happy to have a good view of Mr. Nimoy. After our Star Trek binge-watching sessions, I was so used to seeing Spock that it was a tiny shock to see Leonard Nimoy, you know, as a human. There were no pointy ears, no upwardly curling eyebrows–just a wrinkled smile and those deep set eyes.
I never thought that Mr. Nimoy would personally affect me so much during the lecture. Even now, as I struggle to figure out my career path and deepest passions, some moments from his lecture stick out in my mind.
That day, he told us his life story. He spoke about his childhood memories of Boston, the struggle to find his identity as the son of an immigrant family, and the difficulties of pursuing an artistic career while making ends meet. He revealed that his issues around identity led him to contribute to the depth of Spock’s character. He identified with Spock; they were both aliens trying to understand and navigate a different culture while grappling with the repercussions of a mixed identity. As he spoke, it became clear to me that Mr. Nimoy was indeed the heart of Star Trek and the reason why it connected with so many people. After all, he is the one who came up with the iconic “live long and prosper” greeting and gesture.
However, the most moving part of the lecture for me was when Mr. Nimoy spoke about his later years of exploring new creative outlets. He discussed his work, The Full Body Project, a photography collection centered around the image of nude overweight women. He expressed his journey toward understanding the pressures that women face from the media to be thin and explained the development of his desire to show the beauty of women with different body sizes.
As he showed us slides of his work, I was awestruck with the way he had challenged traditional views of what a woman should look like. Defying expectations of obese women, he photographed his models in iconic poses, revealing their humanity. Front and center, women with body types that are so often shamed were instead seen for what they are–beautiful and full of grace.
Another project of his, titled “Secret Selves” showcased the ‘hidden side’ of people by portraying who they felt like on the inside. I can’t express how much I admire his effort to get closer to what it means to be human. We all have these complex inner identities coexisting, for better or worse, with the external image we must put on for society. But in his photography, Nimoy triumphed stripping down to that inner self, giving people more courage to do so themselves.
“I think the images tell the story. Art should stimulate thinking about the world around us.”
–Leonard Nimoy in an interview about The Full Body Project
Leonard Nimoy was one of those endlessly creative people. It amazes me that he turned to photography and also poetry(!) as a way to get closer to the truth of identity and representation. I have continued to be inspired by the way he has traversed mediums in pursuit of expression. I too have begun branching out creatively by trying out drawing and photography in addition to writing. His example will always encourage me to follow my heart and never put restrictions on myself.
Leonard Nimoy was not just Spock–he was a true artist. Throughout his lifetime he was an actor, director, writer, poet, photographer, singer, and even created the Nimoy Foundation to help other artists fund their creative endeavors.
May his memory inspire us to try new things, explore our identity, look for the humanity in others, and live each moment fully.