Where nature meets culture

Digital photographer Jan Dove explores nature, culture and the power of dance

“Holy Water: Well” by Jan Dove.

“Holy Water: Well” by Jan Dove.

Photo By David Robert

Jan Dove, once a dancer and now a digital artist, talks about that magical thing that comes with movement and dance. It’s a “creative fire,” she says, evoking the Spanish concept of duende: one’s power to attract and to charm.

In her current exhibit of digital photo collages, Holy Water and Other Reflections, Dove explores the idea of duende through two works: “Duende: White Lily” and “Duende: Rose.” In “White Lily,” as in “Rose,” the collage’s top half shows a blurred flamenco dance scene. The collage’s bottom half appears to be liquefied, reflecting the dance scene above. Dove digitally inserted a lily at the collage’s center—a colorful and startlingly realistic presence standing out against the fuzzy backdrop of the dance.

Dove says that the flower serves both a compositional and a symbolic purpose: It keeps the viewer from focusing too much on the collage’s more realistic top half, rather than its abstract bottom half, which represents the “dream state.” The dream, in other words, is as important as the reality.

Nearly all of the collages on display are divided into halves. In many, there seems to be a nature/culture thing going on, often featuring birds and water.

“Birds seem to be like a symbol of the spirit … a symbol of freedom,” Dove says.

Dove says that this bird symbolism is also directly linked to water symbolism. Many of the photographed birds were injured in some way and are thus “subtle symbols of [an] attitude toward water.” Dove says that we as a society tend to abuse our natural resources, and the wounded birds are representative of a distressed water supply.

One of the most dynamic pieces in the exhibit is “Holy Water: Well.” The collage’s lower half shows a well; the water reflects two white birds flying across the sky. The collage’s upper half shows businessmen riding on Bay Area Rapid Transit, an image that is blurred to dramatize their motion. The two white birds reflected in the well water fly across the transit scene, making for an odd nature/culture crossover.

“I like the contrast of the busy people [rushing] to the next goal, and the stillness of the well, with the birds as an intermediary,” she says.

Dove, who lives in Oakland, Calif., and has a day job helping disabled senior citizens participate in artistic projects, says that her choice of subjects—birds, flowers, dancers and water—is part of an intuitive creative process rather than a deliberate one. Dove says that she photographs whatever draws her attention, and the recognition of themes and symbols in her work comes later.

“You set up questions, and the answers start to come through the [artistic] process," she says.