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Go See “Machisma”

File this one under “Paul attempts to review an art show”:

Karen Renee Robb and Nina Covington

Karen Renee Robb, one of the subjects of “Machisma” and Nina Covington, the photographer/artist who created the exhibit.

I want to encourage all my readers (well, those that live in or near Nashville) to hasten themselves down to The Arcade in downtown Nashville [Google Maps]. On the ground floor, next door to Manny’s Pizza (best place in Nashville for real New York street-style pizza) you’ll find Corvidae Collective Gallery. Climb the stairs, go around the corner, and behold Nina Covington’s marvelous photo exhibit, “Machisma.”

What you will see is a stunning collection of black-and-white-on-metal prints of women Nina has photographed over the past two years.

I think “Machisma” is a word Nina coined herself. I’m going to go out on limb here and surmise that the term is a feminized version of the word that the spell-checker on my laptop keeps wanting to correct it to, the more familiar “machismo.”

My dictionary defines “machismo” as “strong or aggressive masculine pride.” I believe what Nina has captured in this riveting portrait series is the feminine equivalent, which is actually something very different. Both genders can be “strong” but where the masculine version is “aggressive” the feminine version is more, “I’m not coming after you, but I’m not taking any of your shit, either.”

What Nina Covington has assembled over a period of two years is a series of black and white portraits of women from all walks of life, all of which show women at both their most vulnerable and their most powerful.


Nina Covington with three of the prints from “Machisma” – her mother, herself, and her grandmother. Photo © Kirabelle Frabotta

They all posed… I’m at a slight loss for words here, because to say the subjects are “topless” engages all manner of pop-culture stereotypes and invokes a certain risqué and daring – which is not what these photographs are about. So let’s just say that all the subjects, regardless of body type, have posed for Nina’s camera “without the burden of clothing” over their torsos.

And, perhaps a bit oddly in light of all those cultural stereotypes, that is precisely how/where the images derive their impressive power. “Machisma” captures the infinite variety of female body types apart from the hyper-sexualized, impossible-without-makeup-and-Photoshop “ideal” form.

Nina’s secret for capturing these compelling images? I overheard her at the opening last Saturday (April 2) telling a visitor, “I spent an hour with each subject just talking” before she even opened her camera bag or set any lights.

I have been learning in the course of my photo work that finding a rapport with your subject is infinitely more important than all the technical details like camera settings and light angles. As a photographer myself I was duly impressed with the technical excellence of all these portraits, but I am even more impressed with the character that is captured in each image.

I’ve said enough. Go see the photos, they do a much better job of speaking for themselves than I can do speaking for them. And better yet, take your daughters.

(If you’re not near Nashville or otherwise not able to see the show, click the banner below to see the images on the Corvidae Collective Gallery website: