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Joan Osato

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San Francisco

Birth year

Lives in
San Francisco

Works in
San Francisco


exhibition/performance, conceptual, figurative, abstract, digital, photography, traditional, performance, landscape, installation, non-profit, gallery, hasselblad, cell phone photography photography


Joan Osato has played a pivotal role in local and national theater for well over a decade and has been an indispensable part of Youth Speaks since 2001. She served as Youth Speaks' Managing Director from 2001-2007 and has been an Producer, Assistant Director, Stage Manager, Production Manager, and Lighting Designer with the Living Word Project. She is currently Producing Director for Youth Speaks and the Living Word Project (the theater repertory company of Youth Speaks) and serves as producer on Youth Speaks' Festivals and Performance Events, as well as LWP works for stage.  She served as director of the Asian American Theater Company from 1997 - 2000 and currently sits on their advisory board. She has brought her multiplicity of production and design talents to Living Word Project Repertory works such as The Break/s, Word Becomes Flesh, Scourge, Tree City Legends and Mirrors in Every Corner. She is the inaugural recipient of the San Francisco Arts Commission Artist and Communities Partnership Grant for a project she is conducting through Asian American Recovery Services of San Francisco.

She is self-taught photographer, born and raised in San Francisco.  She works mostly in medium film format, preferring to work with existing light, hand held.  Her style is documentary, although her images exude mysterious or dreamlike qualities. Working in color, and black and white, the finished portraits and panoramic landscapes are utilized in large-scale wall murals, installation and visual design for theatre.

She started, and stopped photographing she was a teenager. Documenting the underground scene of her youth; punk rock music, drug addicts, and homeless waifs, she focused her work on the people and places populated her world. Subliminally, she created a photographic essay; a study of people in crisis, a contemplation on human soul and psyche; a meditation exploring individuality and personality in the most critical moments of people’s lives.  Fear, confusion, beauty, potential, and transformation are powerful and universal emotions that were reflected back to the viewer in her work.  In those nascent beginnings of a photographer's journey, individuals on the margins of society were made visible. During the 1980’s her photography was exhibited at SF Camerawork, graced the album cover designs of such iconic San Francisco bands such as Faith No More, and The Pop-o-Pies, and published in the LA Weekly.

After a 25-year hiatus she picked up the camera again in 2008. Since then she has been considered for prestigious awards such as the Prix de la Photographie, and awarded an Exhibition in The Bay Area Currents 2009.  Her work has been exhibited at the Meridien Gallery, Ictus Gallery and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Her notable portraits have been featured in publications including the SF Chronicle, Houston Chronicle,  Koream Magazine,  and Artslant (as the Juried Exhibition Winner in Photography).  She is visual designer for Tree City Legends, by Dennis Kim, directed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and is currently working as a designer on two upcoming plays for Campo Santo including The River by Richard Montoya, and Alleluia, by Luis Alfaro, directed by Jonathan Moscone.

Recently she has begun to use the ubiquitous iphone as a tool to create work. Her new series entitled "New River" is a study of California through the lens of the southeast border towns’ area alongside the New River. Spanning photographs that are cultural documentary and portraiture, an evocative and mythical travelogue, and a visual contemplation on the nature of destruction and beauty, this series represents her current body of work. Starting in May of 2010, spanning over 10 different trips via truck and motorcycle, covering over 12,000 miles, criss-crossing California from the US/Mexico border at Calexico, she has documented the environs of the New River Region from Mexicali to its terminus in the Salton Sea, and the land, water, geology, archeological past, towns, and people of her home state of California.

Recent Exhibits

Joan Osato participated in these exhibits:

Apr, 2014 Home in the World: An Apocalyptic Travelogue
OMI Gallery at Impact Hub Oakland
Oct, 2013 Califas Exhibition
Intersection for the Arts/ Intersection 5M
Apr, 2013 Meditation on Timelessness...For Your Future Soul
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Apr, 2013 The River, By Richard Montoya
The A.C.T Costume Shop - American Conservatory Theater
May, 2012 Reimagine: That Which We Know But Don’t Realize
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Apr, 2011 Home in the World: An Apocalyptic Travelogue
Ictus Gallery
Click here to see all exhibits for Joan Osato

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