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TINSELTOWN TALKS

Nimoy reflects on Spock, photography and living with COPD

Monday, February 24, 2014 - 12:01 am

Despite a recent diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a lung ailment that affects more than 12 million Americans, Leonard Nimoy plans to keep busy.

As Star Trek's Spock, Nimoy created one of the most iconic characters in television history. But for the past two decades, he has transported his career to the other side of the camera and is regarded as a leading contemporary American photographer.

“I've got three exhibitions coming up in March in the Boston area,” said Nimoy from his home in Los Angeles. “The exhibits cover about 20 years of my career, so it's quite comprehensive.”

Nimoy, who turns 83 next month, is represented by R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Mass., (see www.RMichelson.com for exhibit dates).

Although a scheduling conflict will likely prevent him from attending the openings, he plans to travel to the East Coast in May to be honored by the New England chapter of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as guest narrating for a Boston Pops concert.

The diagnosis of COPD, which primarily is caused by smoking, didn't really catch him off guard.

“Before I stopped smoking 30 years ago, I was deeply addicted,” said Nimoy. “I had to go through various programs before I quit. But by then, the damage was done. In my late 70s and early 80s, I recognized that I did not have great breathing capacity, so wasn't surprised by the COPD diagnosis.”

“I use medication daily and give myself a jolt of oxygen when I need it,” he added. “The main difficulty is high altitudes. We've had a house in Lake Tahoe for 20 years, which is a beautiful retreat. But at 6,000 feet, I just can't go there anymore. Other than that, I'm still very active and not ready to cash it in yet!”

Though best known as an actor, the photography bug bit him hard at the pinnacle of his career.

“I had finished three seasons of “Star Trek” and two seasons of “Mission: Impossible,” and I actually considered changing careers,” explained Nimoy, who even returned to school at UCLA to study under master art photographer Robert Heineken.

But with no enthusiasm for commercial photography, Nimoy realized a career in fine art photography would be difficult at the time. “So I decided to stay with my acting and directing, although I continued to study photography and work at it.”

Around 1994, he became a full-time photographer (while continuing to tackle some film and TV projects of interest), producing work that was largely concept driven. His diverse subjects include hands, eggs, landscapes, nudes, and dancers, all shot with traditional black and white film which Nimoy developed.

“I have two darkrooms and do my own printing up to a 16-by-20-inch image. I like to be in touch with the whole process,” he said. “But years of exposure to those darkroom chemicals probably didn't help my breathing.”

Nimoy has published several books of his works. Most recently, for his Secret Selves project – his first shot in digital color – he photographed 100 people from all walks of life, each acting out a fantasy identity.

As an actor, Nimoy is accustomed to creating alternative identities, his most celebrated being the unemotional Vulcan scientist. Despite rumors throughout his career that he resented being typecast as Spock, Nimoy says he regards the character with fondness.

“I've always been proud to be identified with Spock and never had any concern about it,” he said. “I'm a very lucky guy and have had a great run as an actor.”

But what if J.J. Abrams, the producer/director of the new Star Trek films, approached him for reprising the role?

“I'd take his call, but doubt I'd do any acting,” he said. “I don't want to go off on location again. I'm enjoying life with my family too much.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala. His features and columns have appeared in over 400 newspapers and magazines and can be reached at his blog: http://getnickt.blogspot.com.