As the world says goodbye to iconic cultural figure Leonard Nimoy, North Carolinians will have the opportunity to reflect on his life and work at a career-spanning exhibition of his photography coming to Alamance County in May.
The actor gained widespread recognition as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the “Star Trek” television series.
“On the Other Side of the Lens: The Photography of Leonard Nimoy” will feature more than 30 years of his work. It opens May 1 and will be on display through July 15 at Alamance Arts, at 213 S. Main St., Graham.
More than 30 pieces are being donated from the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Mass., which houses the bulk of Nimoy’s photographic work, and nine more pieces are coming from the personal collection of Burlington resident Bonnie Moss.
Moss knew Nimoy, and in 2010 helped sponsor one of his photography exhibitions in Massachusetts. Last year, she arranged for the Alamance Arts exhibition through the R. Michelson Galleries, Nimoy and the local Wooten Family Fund.
“People don’t realize what a well-respected photographer he was,” Moss said. “We’re probably one of the smaller venues his work has been shown in. He has work in New York City, Los Angeles and New Orleans. We’re in some good company there.”
Moss — a licensed clinical social worker with Hospice and Palliative Care of Alamance-Caswell — became aware of Nimoy as most of the world did, through his legendary portrayal of Mr. Spock on “Star Trek.” She continued to follow him through the other facets of his career, purchasing her first of his photographs at age 15 through a fan club.
She first met him in 1979 and would have occasion to keep in touch with him over the next three-and-a-half decades, finally coming to know him as a friend. In June, she was invited to attend the ceremony during which Nimoy received an honorary Emmy Award for acting.
In 2010, she sponsored the exhibition of his photography series, “Secret Selves,” for which Nimoy asked people to portray their inner fantasies in front of his camera. Through that experience, Moss posed for his lens as a bride. She’s never married. She keeps the photo at her home.
That photo won’t be part of the Alamance County exhibition, but the photo she acquired of his at 15 will be.
“I didn’t want the exhibition to be about me,” Moss said Friday. “This is a major retrospective of his work.”
Nimoy used photography to communicate deeply personal themes. Spirituality, self-empowerment and feminism influenced his work and individual collections.
“He wanted us to see beyond what we normally see,” Moss said.
After his success in the “Star Trek” TV series, for which he was nominated for three Emmys, Nimoy went on to further success as an actor and director of the “Star Trek” films. He was nominated for a fourth Emmy for 1982’s “A Woman Called Golda,” and directed the late 1980s hit comedy “Three Men and a Baby.” He produced other films and television shows, starred on Broadway and in national theater tours of productions of “Camelot” and “Equus,” and published several best-selling collections of poetry.
“It’s almost unfortunate that ‘Star Trek’ became so popular because it sometimes eclipsed his other accomplishments,” Moss said.
She recalled that Nimoy was always generous to his fans and grateful for his success.
“He was modest,” Moss said, and “every much as intelligent as the character he played.”
Nimoy became a philanthropist in his later years, funding restorations of historic theaters and exhibitions of up-and-coming visual artists, as well as lending time and money to scientific and medical causes, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and anti-smoking campaigns.
Moss hopes that people will visit Alamance Arts, take in the exhibition and see Nimoy beyond the prosthetic ears and stentorian voice. She hopes they will see Nimoy as she knew him: a compassionate and restless creator, intellect and artist.
“I will be eternally grateful that he gave the go-ahead for this exhibition,” Moss said.