Leonard Nimoy Despite his many stage, film, and television credits, Leonard Nimoy is best known for his role as Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk's Vulcan sidekick, in the phenomenally successful television and film series, Star Trek. Ardent trekkies probably know that Nimoy devised the Vulcan salute based on a gesture of blessing used by rabbis in some Orthodox services. What most don't know is that after several seasons of the show and Mission Impossible, he considered changing his career to photography.

The path he did not take then is the one he is traveling now. Nimoy has for the past several years become deeply involved in photography; one of his projects involves creating images of the Shekhina, or female presence of God.

His images are bound to provoke more than a few feminists and conservative Jews because he depicts the Shekhina naked, draped with a prayer shawl or veils, or wearing a tefillin, leather pouches containing Torah passages that are traditionally worn only by men during morning prayers. Some might protest the fact that he is picturing the Shekhina at all.

Nimoy spoke with Beliefnet senior producer, Anne Simpkinson, about his new career direction, his provocative photographs, and his pursuit of the divine feminine.

Photographs copyright Leonard Nimoy. Used here with permission.

When did you start taking photographs?

I've been working with photography for many years. About seven or eight years ago, I started work on a collection of images of the female figure--some of which are on my web site--a classic nude series.

About three years ago, I was visiting a collector in New York, who has a rather impressive collection of photographs, all based on the human hand. It struck me that I had an image that might be interesting to him and it was the image of the hand in the kabbalistic gesture, the split fingers, that you might be familiar with. [On Star Trek, it was the Vulcan salute.]

The image is a single hand held upright, palm facing the viewer, and the fingers split, the thumb outstretched, the thumb outstretched and the other four fingers split into two pairs.

That gesture comes from something I experienced as a young child in the Orthodox Jewish service. There's a traditional blessing that is intoned by the Kohanim, the Hebrew priest, during the Orthodox service:

"May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord cause His countenance to shine upon you.
May the Lord turn his graciousness unto you,
And grant you peace."

This blessing is in the Old and the New Testaments and when they recite it in the ancient Hebrew, they formed that shape with both their hands. It is the shape of the letter "shin" in the Hebrew alphabet and the first letter in the word "shaddai," which is the name of the Almighty. The sense is that they used that shape as an icon for the presence of the Almighty as they blessed the congregation.

I discovered only in the last three or four years something I had not been aware of which is that during that Orthodox ceremony, the belief is that the Shekhina, the feminine presence of God, enters the sanctuary to bless the congregation.

When I began to internalize that information, I decided that there was territory for me to explore that was the combination of the gesture and the female figure that I was working on. I began to introduce "shin" into some of my images with the female figure as a signifier. That branches out into a sizeable body of work that I have put together over the last two or three years and which will be published in a book called "Shekhina" next year by Umbrage Editions in New York.

Working with this project, have you felt that you've come to a deeper understanding of the feminine presence of God?

Well, if you are eating bags of candy every day, you're going to have a sugar experience. I deal with this spiritual issue every day--either shooting or processing or sorting or discussing or having conversations--I'm in constant contact with it.

And I love it. As an artist in whatever field that I've chosen to work, whether it's film, stage, writing, photography, or whatever, there are periods of time when I have said to myself and others: "I feel like I'm in a state of grace. I'm in touch with the bliss that Joseph Campbell talked about. I'm in touch with what I want to do, why I'm doing it, how I'm doing it." Those are wonderful moments, and they don't always come when you expect them or want them but when they do come, I recognize them. I'm old enough to know that I've had that experience a number of times in my working life; I recognize it when it comes and value it.

What other projects affected you spiritually?

I had an experience in New York around September 16th or 17th. I was in New York on the 11th and was scheduled on the following Sunday to do a narration at a program of Jewish High Holidays music sung by a choral group known as the Western Wind Ensemble.