Nudes; it’s unexpected, I know. He had been doing it for years. I discovered that when I photographed him in 2010. It was a surprise to find this whole other side.
Leonard had been a photographer for over 40 years. An amazing large amount of his imagery focus was on nude women. Not the typical glamour approach though. All of his work had a larger purpose, had him exploring, or exposing something deeper.
Still, the start of his Full Body Project had an interesting beginning. He had just finished a presentation of his nude work. A very large woman approached him telling him the obvious; she and her friends were not like the women he had photographed.
She had said, “You work with a particular body type. I am not that type, I’m a different body type. Will you be interested in working with me?” As he told the story, he explained “ . . . and she was a very, very large lady.”
Photographing her became the start of his project. It was the first time he had photographed a person of that size and shape. Leonard explained he was scared; he was uncomfortable; nervous. He had no idea how to approach the photography or even if he could do her justice. He commented he just “didn’t know quite how to treat this figure.”
I thought it was revealing about him that his main concern was doing her justice. Creating images that would meet her needs.
As he showed the work around, he was surprised at the response and interest. The whole process developed an awareness, he called it a consciousness, that most “most people live in body types that are not the type that’s being sold by fashion models.”
It’s an interesting thought. We are so enveloped with the pretty people in magazines, ads, movies and so on that our subconscious comes to believe this is the norm. Even though our daily reality is quite different.
Well he struggled with the best approach, settling on revealing her as a sculpture. With the look of a marble sculpture, it fascinated people who often described it as beautiful. It was an exciting reference for her body type.
Pursuing the concept, it was now a project he found a group of large women, women who reveled in their size. The leader of the group, the Fat-Bottom Revue told him “ . . . whenever a fat person steps on a stage to perform, and it’s not the butt of a joke, that’s a political statement.”
As Leonard researched his project he found that from an anthropology viewpoint the “ . . . ideas of beauty and sexuality are “culture bound” – that these ideas are not universal or fixed, and that they vary and fluctuate depending on place and time.” Women of coarse are born in every era with a body that might not fit the fashion of the time. So they suffer, or struggle sometimes, to find even their own acceptance.
His Beauty Project book was a success on many levels. One was that it trigged discussions about beauty, social acceptability; even plastic surgery.
In all his work Leonard had his nudes making statements, creating discussions, opening eyes. He was bold, doing nudes with his own religion’s sacred items.
Yet all his work could be described as respectful. Usually he hired dancers to express his themes. So unlike most of what I do, his images were not about his subjects, but spoke about a larger audience. While my images are often of larger themes, they usually speak about one woman.
When I photographed him, his warmth, his joy and his consideration of others struck me, there was nothing flashy or false about Leonard Nimoy. He added greatly to this field of female imagery. Even though his arena was fine art while mine is commissioned portraits, I found the core values of our imagery to be aligned.
While unexpected, it gives me a whole different appreciation for Leonard Nimoy, a photographer who will be missed.