Art model and photographer Nina Covington is naked as a jaybird. From her haunting images, which have graced gallery walls, magazines and books to the statements that fly out of her face, Covington is just as provocative, and alluring, in person.
While the password to her website is “art not porn,” the model and artist’s personal slogan might as well be “What the fuck are you looking at?!” Similar to the theatrical poses in her portraits, her personality is big and bold. From her “free the nipple” crusade to her upcoming Machisma exhibition, Covington isn’t afraid to enforce her opinions.
“I’m easy to interview,” she said upon strolling through my front door. Indeed, she talked my ear off candidly for several hours. Atypical of most models and actresses, she is just as alive curled up on the couch as she is in front of the lenses.
Covington is best known for her nudes however, she is clear that the images are not meant to be sexy. She finds the human form beautiful and wants to honor it in the barest way possible. If people have a problem well then, they are welcome to look elsewhere.
While she always loved arts and craft, until age 36 she hadn’t found her niche. When she stumbled upon modeling, it was “drawing and painting” shapes with her limbs that formed a strong attraction. Without the restriction of clothes she could take the viewer through a myriad of emotions. Due to her “obstacles” (age 40, 5’3″ and curvaceous) she worked her ass off. “I felt as though I could be half of the other model’s moms so pushed myself really, really hard,” she explains. The anti-gazelle gained a lot of insight trying to compensate.
However, once the bug bit her, Covington found that flesh and bones makes for boundless creativity.
Were you surprised the first time you modeled nude how comfortable you were without your clothes on?
YES! Especially because I suffered with an eating disorder for a long time and wasn’t always comfortable with my body. In the my 30s, I was suddenly like, to hell with it and embraced how I looked. At the same time, I’ve made it my mission, as a feminist, to show people that nudity doesn’t equal sex. I think it’s absurd that Abercrombie and Fitch can have shirtless male models stand outside of their store but if Victoria’s Secret did the same thing those woman would get arrested.
Was there ever any backlash when you first started taking your clothes off in front of the camera?
When I had merely modeled lingerie my grandfather called me “nasty” one day. I was like, “Fuck you grandpa!” which pushed me to go all the way. The day I posted my first nude online I thought, the second you press the send button there is NO going back. Once I clicked “post” people started writing, “That’s beautiful” or “Great job!” One person said, “I kind of liked it better when you left a bit to the imagination.” However, the overall support really gave me the courage to move forward.
Has modeling helped you to love the way you look?
Yes! At my worst I weighed 89 pounds. Now I’m 118, which is a lot more than I used to when I was terrified of having my photo taken because I thought I was too fat or ugly. There’s hardly a picture in existence of me for a long point in time.
I love that you set a more realistic bar for women— one in which we aren’t tempted to starve ourselves to look a certain way.
In art modeling all sizes are accepted. You don’t have to fit a cookie cutter mold or technically be pretty. My battle is more about age because I realized that my beauty does not expire just because I’m older. People perceive us the way that we see ourselves so my attitude is, I’m 40 and I’m sexy. I’m 40 and I’m relevant. Women hit 30 and call up the hearse. Time to get our walkers, move into the retirement home, and eat pea soup with our dentures. The whole world’s over! Fuck that! As long as I am still enjoying it, I’ll keep modeling until my hair turns grey.
What are some of your biggest triumphs so far?
Shooting with Jack Spencer was a milestone. I really admired his work and would have PAID for him to shoot me. An image called “Force of Nature,” taken by Thomas Dodd was shown in a gallery in France. Appearing in Nashville Arts Magazine was amazing too because I’ve always been a fan. Receiving messages that say, “You really inspired me to love and accept my body more,” have been equally profound. I am proud to have the ability to uplift women and show them how powerful we are.
Can you tell me a little about how you segued from modeling into photography?
I’m a really curious person so through modeling I began asking questions and becoming conscious about lighting, angles and editing tricks. To have more control over my own image I began doing self-portraits. After I upped my game, while screwing up on myself, I had the nerve to start approaching other people. My goal is to make my subjects feel as though their type of unique beauty is valid. Those stretch marks are examples of the life that you brought into this world. That scar on your arm tells your story. However, I have no qualms about fixing “flaws” in Photoshop if that makes someone comfortable.
You’re sort of a celebrity in your industry. How much of that public persona is you?
She is all of the quirky parts of my personality magnified. It’s why my Facebook page says, “Nina Covington, Fictional Character.” My followers don’t see the part where I’m watching Netflix in my footie pajamas and talking to my cat.
All photos by Nina Covington.