With a background in theater and photography, Joan Osato finds an interest in storytelling. She seeks to forge new modes of narrative that shape the ways in which we take in information and perceive the world around us. Through her triptych portrait project at Omi Gallery at Impact Hub Oakland, she finds a way to allow for multiple narratives or perceptions to be held in the space at one time. While we may often find our own understanding to be the true one at any given moment, and while the western science mentality produces a drive to uncover one truth, one pinpointed answer to every question, this seems to be at odds with the complex, multifaceted nature of life.
As her exhibit Home in the World: An Apocalyptic Travelogue came to a close at Omi Gallery at Impact Hub Oakland, Osato passed up the opportunity to talk about her art, and instead decided to create a participatory project where all those attending could do some art together. Participants ranged from members of the Hub community to walk-ins from the street, and each person had the opportunity to have their portrait taken. She invited two other photographers, Patanisha Williams and DaKarai, to join her in each taking over a 4’ x 5’ quiet booth at the Hub, using their own stylistic vision to transform it into a photo booth. The three booths varied in both lighting and prop design, which yielded not a dissonance between the photos, but rather allowed them to compliment one another, fusing into a single triptych that captures the scope of the layered and constantly flowing human experience.
Humans are not always put together or in focus, though sometimes we are. The photos range from glamorous to subtle, from sharp and energized to hazy and calm. Each photographer’s style – the way they set up their booth and directed their subjects – allowed for a different part of the subject’s personality to be drawn out. These triptychs allow us to see the same subject at effectively the same moment, in three widely varying ways, providing a tangible scaled down version of the way in which people are infinitely faceted.
Implicit in the spontaneous, interactive nature of this project are also the eyes of all the onlookers – their own points of view and developing perceptions of people that were happening in live time, as these photos were being taken. We all inhabit a shared space at some time or another (for some of us, almost all the time). But even within this shared space, perspectives can be drastically different, which essentially splits the situation into countless, simultaneous versions of itself. Different stimuli can bring out different, equally real parts of ourselves. And on the flip side, depending on the day or the hour, different variables at play in our own life can impact the way that we perceive our surroundings. Nothing is stable or concrete, despite our attempt to make it so. The outcome of Osato’s project was an opportunity to play with this instability, and explore the variability of perception instead of trying to pin it down.
A few of the triptychs are missing a section. While at first glance these may seem incomplete, this negative space reflects yet another important component that this project brings up: moments of not being seen. While we spend much of our hours in the day being seen and seeing others, there are pockets here and there were no gaze rests on us. Perhaps this is in bed at night or at a crowded rally where every individual is lost to the mass of the crowd.
What do we do during these moments of being unseen? Are we observing ourselves or are we just being? What can a person become when their humanly shape is no longer at the forefront, if even in the picture at all? Here there is possibility. There is unknown. Some of the people attending Joan’s talk may have slipped away before they had all three photos taken, either transitioning to their own unseen space or into yet another zone of countless ways of being and ways of being perceived.