Photo Kathmandu

the photographers who love Nepal as I do, the incredible work that was shot here and shown in Nepal for the first time - all of these factors made this an incredibly unique and meaningful experience. I truly believe there will never be another as special as this year's Photo Kathmandu. 

For the past 5 months I've been (graphic) designing Kathmandu's first international photography festival, Photo Kathmandu. Design and professional work aside, I cannot adequately explain the impact this festival has had on me. The recent tragic earthquake, the past 13 years of my life coming and going to Nepal, the locations chosen for this festival,

On a professional level I learned so much. I designed print materials, 8 x 12 feet large for sides of buildings and temples. It was an incredible challenge and one I'm so glad I took on, so thankful I was asked to be a part of. I'll try to keep my post to a minimum but the amount of work produced was massive.

The first thing I was commissioned to make was branding. You can read about that experience here, but I'll skip past the branding for now.

First thing I want to show off is Photo Kathmandu's physical dropped pins. Each pin corresponded to either an exhibition or a slideshow location on the map I designed.

Kathmandu and especially Patan, where the festival took place, is a massive, intricate maze. Alleys and gullies for miles upon miles make this city's unique web the most confusing and wonderful place to navigate. PKTM (Photo Kathmandu) became an exhibition treasure hunt. With over 18 exhibitions and 7 slideshows held in alley ways, parks within gullies, hidden temples and private homes, we needed a way to show foreigners how to get to each exhibition. Dropped pins became clues and the map a key for the exhibition hunt. By far, my favorite part of the festival was hunting down these exhibitions and seeing exhibitions in their local habitat. Some of the locations were spectacularly nestled in gardens, within clusters of homes, inaccessible by car or motorcycle. 

The most important and challenging design was the fold out map/schedule. I had high expectations for this and I expected it to be fabulous. I wanted it to be useful, clean, simple but also elegant and eye-catching. Locals were to read it as well as festival-goers so it had to appeal to everyone who picked it up. It should fit in a pocket and not be a burden to open and carry around. It should be easy to read and each fold or unfold should take you down a new design path. I had so much fun designing this. 


Over the past four months there were so many designs needed. Flyers, posters, mail outs, venue branding, intro panels for all the exhibitions, dropped pins, standies, captions, merchandise (mugs, journals, pins, even RS MOTO camera straps), letter head, 2 websites, an app, public maps and so much more I'm probably not thinking of. Here are a few of my photos showcasing my designs and local Nepali people interacting with them. 

As part of the festival's desire to stay local, we worked with local artisans and artists to produce most of our merchandise. Bhav Products produced our journals, Project Chhap produced our tote bags, Fuzion Art produced our t-shirts and pins and Shraddha illustrated the saddhus we used on our tees and totes. Even RS CHALA sold camera straps! 


A Tribute: Books that Changed My Life

Before I post my Photo Kathmandu design work, I'm adding something I've been working on in my free time. I have been contemplating applying for grad school to study graphic design at Aalto University in Finland. You know you're doing something good when an assignment has you get-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-to-jot-down-ideas excited.

Photo by Oza

Photo by Oza

Photo by Oza

Photo by Oza

For the application, the instructions were to make an 8-page, graphic design-oriented memoir style layout, with text. I'm not going to include the text because it's super personal, but I am posting my process and one of the four layouts. I decided to create very different layouts for 4 different books that impacted my life. I've always felt that I could define separate seasons of my life by books.  

I could name way more than four books that impacted and changed my life. But I started with these four: Goosebumps by R.L. Stein (my father who passed away when I was 14 inspired me to read by buying me all the Goosebumps series I wanted growing up), The Bible (for over 7 years I was a self-inflicted, fanatic Christian), Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins and The Passion by Jeannette Winterson (when I read this book I felt I was reading myself to me). The book and layout I was most excited about was "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins. I read this book while questioning Christianity and traveling through Nepal. It opened my eyes to a world of living life to the fullest through travel and my mild version of debauchery. 

For this layout I knew I wanted to do hand typography and some type of puja (religious ceremony) to illustrate my move away from Christianity and my travel obsession.


I started with hand drawn typography and a loose idea around using Nepali puja items to layout my text about my move away from Christianity. 


I knew I wanted something striking to fill the typography. One of the main parts of a classic Nepali puja is this bright mixture of dahi (yoghurt) and chamal (uncooked rice). Usually the last part of the puja is when the person blessing you puts a large clump of this mixture on your forehead. I was so incredibly surprised at how beautifully it worked. It really pops against the wood and because it's sticky and wet it really worked great.

Then it was time to gather all the puja items I could find around Kathmandu to create an arial photoshoot that I could then add my memoir text to. I used all very specific puja items. In Nepal, most cultures and people groups have their own puja's all year round that include different items. There may be a few pieces in here that don't go with this puja (the fish are not used in a Laxmi puja but I just loved those fish and also that pink wafer doesn't work, but it was just so pretty). But mainly they are all things used for this particular puja. 

This is the final layout! My text goes in that blank space below the incense sticks. The bad news is that I logged onto the Aalto website yesterday to make sure my layout was not too big, just to double check. Turns out they changed the master's degree completely. It's now an infographic/data/storytelling masters degree and I'm not thrilled about it. I'm still pretty bummed. The application opening is just one month away and they completely changed the master's degree one month before applications opened. I guess I'm not applying anymore. But I learned so much from this and I'm going to use this typography concept later on for something for sure.


illustrations, oh my

Once upon a time...a young, bright-eyed, would-be photojournalist from small-town Alabama designed a brochure for a tiny NGO in Nepal. I never thought in a million years that I would be a designer. I never thought I was a photographer either, but that's not this story. What I always wanted, more than anything, was to tell and to hear stories.  

Over the years, I've learned that the way we tell stories is just as important as the stories told. In the South, a good storyteller is as good as gold. My youth pastor could tell a story about a burrito that would leave you in tears. My Uncle Handsome relays stories with a southern drawl that drips with honey. His stories tell me who I am and where I come from. The way he delivers a story about my daddy and how he impressed all the girls, is just as important as the story itself. It's an art.

My designs, photographs, videos, typography, my media - I want them to tell stories. I may never be able to tell a story through graphic design with the finesse that my Uncle Handsome does. But I think the vehicle and the message should drip with honey like Uncle Handsome's stories. 
I love communications because I never stop learning. Here are a few of my first attempts at illustration. 

Here are a few characters I made for CCF. We're heavy on the great photography. Our CEO and founder is such a great photographer, so a few illustrations of people seemed like a good next step. I'm still working on these. This was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It took me nights upon nights, after work, to figure out how to do faces. I still don't think they're right. Let's call them a work in progress, for sure.

Above left, are icons I developed for CCF's new website. There are 6 major project areas with colored icons for each project area. I made a line version as well but I want to showcase those when I publish the website, which will be soon. For these icons I made several illustrations for each project area. Now, when I need to design a flyer for example, I can use illustrations as needed to make the media more dynamic. 

These are trust badges for our Sponsorship Department for the new website. I think we need 3 more badges as well for the jobs and volunteer board pages. I'm looking forward to developing more of these as we need them for the website and other materials. Below is a personal project I'm working on where I illustrate friends' faces. This is the first one...hopefully more to come.

kathmandu photo festival branding

I'll be designing for the the first photography festival in Kathmandu, Nepal. I'm thrilled. The festival will start in November, so I have some time to make this logo and branding spectacular. These are first-round ideas!

The above two I like, but they have zero relation to Nepal and they have that photo festival feel. I think sometimes you have to get the obvious design out of the way before you can start being creative. 

The goals is a modern brand, but that stands by itself, regardless of prior knowledge of photo festival brands. This is difficult because photo festivals have pretty basic branding or they haven't taken the time to develop a brand at all. 

We also wanted something with bright colors and strong lines. This year's theme is "time" and features archived photographs from the Nepal Picture Library. The photos will always speak for themselves - they are strong, incredible statements by themselves. I think the branding should draw attention to the photos, not take away from them.

These are a few starting ideas. I apologize for the random shades of pinks and ocre. I think what's lacking so far, in the logo, is an element of Nepal. We wanted to include an element of Patan (the area where the festival will takes place this year). The temples, architecture and artwork in that area are spectacular and ornate. What I hoped to land on was a subtle, modern wink at Patan's unique architecture. The slash in the M mimics the temples' roofs. 

This is just the beginning, so things may change, but I wanted to post a sneak peek at this exciting project. I will post more as we dive deeper! 


Women’s Day Campaign and A (refresher) Lesson

For International Women’s Day, I worked with our fundraising and video team to create a brand-awareness campaign for CCF. We wanted to show the breadth of what CCF does through the stories of four women. The name of our organization is Cambodian Children’s Fund, but our work goes far beyond helping children. 


CCF has six areas of focus (leadership, community outreach, healthcare, childcare, education and vocational training). Within these six programs, over 60 activities fit into them  (nutritious bread program, free dinners, clean water, dental care, college education, we even built over 200 houses last year and plan on building 300 more this year). CCF does so much for the people of Steung Meanchey! I am pretty often overwhelmed when trying to explain CCF to friends or acquaintances.

the design that went with the Facebook post of the Granny Sponsorship video

the design that went with the Facebook post of the Granny Sponsorship video

 Lately our team has focused on explaining how CCF is more than just a children's organization. This campaign was one of our first organized attempts at showing our audience the breadth of the work we do.

the format I used for the statistic overlays within the video

the format I used for the statistic overlays within the video

While the 4-part video and design campaign was successful (over 200 shares, 3k engagement and a 94k reach), it was not as successful as other campaigns we’ve done in the past. It was unique in its approach and It was definitely something that most of our viewers and audience have never seen from CCF. 

While producing this, we wanted to specifically showcase the statistics and impact of the work CCF is doing. We wanted to give concrete evidence of the impact of the work we do on the ground here in Phnom Penh. 

I personally wanted to create beautiful typography, design and video to explain our impact. We did all these things and we did them successfully. But what I think this campaign lacked was a direct connection with the women who are featured in it. 

The biggest take away for me was a reminder of the most important lesson I learned in college while studying photojournalism: people connect with stories. The strongest tool CCF has in communicating the impact of our work is the stories of the people we have helped. In 2015 (only 3 months in), the Facebook post with the most engagement and biggest reach had only 2 sentences and a before and after photo that showed a tiny girl enrolled in CCF. That simple photo-post diptych had over 3.3k likes, comments and shares. It had a 100,000-person organic reach. 

This year we have many campaigns planned and although this campaign wasn’t as successful as I wanted it to be, by taking a risk and producing high quality media, we learned that leading with stories and keeping things simple will always have a great impact on CCF’s audience. We also creatively told over 94,000 people that CCF is more than just a children’s organization. That is important. 

Working on this campaign was so much fun. I storyboarded, illustrated, collaborated with our incredible grant writing team, helped our film team shoot these ladies on a white background, edited 5 videos, created the typography by hand and I even did the tiny animation work at the beginning of the videos. This is what I love doing: combining photo, video, animation and design to tell stories that people connect with. I was up until 12 am one night doing the typography and I thought to myself, my job is so cool…

storyboards for the video

storyboards for the video


Building (Internal and External) Communications

For the past six months I've been redesigning, rebranding and revamping internal and external communication and marketing materials for one of the most unique program areas of CCF: The Sponsorship Department. 

The confirmation email that leads sponsors to a Resource Center, a website platform designed specifically for new sponsors to find resources and answers to questions they have.

I say unique for many reasons, but the main one I'm referring to when I tell people about CCF's Sponsorship program is that it is a one-on-one relationship with an actual child who goes to school at CCF. If a sponsor stops communicating after a certain amount of time, we basically find new sponsors for that child. Sponsors can meet their sponsor kids, in real life (no scams here), in Phnom Penh, see where they go to school, take them out for pizza, etc. The kids build lifelong relationships and friendships with their sponsors and their sponsors families'. I've seen kids during a Skype date with their sponsor families and it's moving. It is one of the best programs we run, in my opinion. 

The best part about this project and my daily work at CCF is that I get the chance to use all my skills on almost every project. For this particular project, I used a few of the following skills: design, photography, video, web design, managerial, strategic development and marketing. Here's a breakdown of some of the work I produced on this project and a few of my thoughts.

I wasn't given a task to redesign our sponsorship department. As with most NGO's and the inner-workings of departments within them, there are almost always improvements just waiting for some overzealous employee to take on. I knew I wanted to brand and give an identity to some of the departments of CCF. In order to rebrand, I realized how much I'd have to dig into the pre-existing internal communications in order to produce marketing materials that made sense for Sponsorship.

I worked closely with the Head of Sponsorship to pinpoint areas of communication which needed improvement, both internally and externally. I set up surveys for existing and new sponsors in order to understand weak and strong points of past communication avenues and how we could improve them for future growth.  We used these weak areas to restructure the internal communications workflow and created a new strategic communication plan. This took many interviews and meetings with key individuals including in-the-field staff and managers.

COMMS PLAN VISUALIZED   Below is an example of the way I used design as a tool for our staff to help everyone visualize the new Sponsorship Communication Plan. This design was used to explain to employees their new roles and timeframes for each task so that there was less confusion when we rolled out the new process. I've deleted and abbreviated most of the information in the graphic below.


One of my biggest concerns in giving an identity to the Sponsorship department was making sure it was developed in a way that would allow other departments the option of branding so that they would all seamlessly fit together under the existing CCF identity. 

Obviously an in-depth rebranding should be done at CCF with multiple branding elements and goals in mind. We will be redesigning our website and branding later.

There really isn't anything deep about how I did this. I picked a color that works in our current branding guidelines, played with a bunch of hand drawn fonts, drew my own, incorporated parts of the current CCF logo and put it together. The key here was making sure other departments (such as the Volunteer department - coming soon!) could also follow suit with the hand drawn feel. 


This is one of the iterations of the logo we ended up with. The graphic below is the one I used as the opener to the video, welcoming a new sponsor. I used it in several other spots throughout the identity rebranding. 


3. SAVE THE PLANET One of the most important complaints/suggestions we got from our survey was to stop wasting money and paper on physical leaflets and packages. Our old system was set up to send a physical folder in the mail, from Cambodia, with a photo of the newly sponsored child, a DVD of our CEO thanking the new sponsor, information about CCF, policies and other important info. Sometimes this packet would arrive 3 months after it was sent and sometimes not at all. One of my biggest tasks was breaking this packet down into a "Digital Sponsorship Package" which we eventually called the Sponsor Resource Center. 

The Sponsorship Resource Center is a place where new sponsors can come to access any and all information regarding sponsorship at CCF. I took the photos, did the design and produced the video. I love this part of my job. Below is a final version of the design:


One of the things we didn't want to lose with the new rollout, was the feel of being in Cambodia while communicating with sponsors around the world. Who doesn't like to get a package from a far away land? So I redesigned a few materials that will stay as part of the physical contact we'll make with sponsors and potential sponsors. 

This is the outside. I will try to post a printed picture soon. It's confusing.

This is the inside. All names and information have been changed for the child's security.

Housing for a Community

The organization I work for provides affordable necessities to a small community of people in Cambodia who live near and sometimes on a trash heap in Phnom Penh. One of the things we offer is extremely affordable housing. They have teamed up with World Housing, a non-profit based out of Canada, to build almost 200 homes this year. They asked me to shoot a few houses in the process of being built. 

Images In Infographics

I've been working on this technique where the photojournalist in me slaps the designer in me. As a photographer, I know the power of images but as a designer I neglect images because of how jarring a photo can feel in a graphic design, especially when it comes to infographics.

Designing with images is all or nothing. I used to either let them tell the whole story, simply, or not use them. Throwing a border on a photo or cutting it out as a circle feels cheap, leaving the designer in me feeling cheated.

This is my challenge - use storytelling images in a powerful, not forceful way in conjunction with my designs. Here are a few examples of how I've been trying to make this happen...does my use of images in my designs work for you?

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 11.53.28 AM.png
Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 10.59.55 AM.png

Apple Exploits Nepali Migrant Workers

I worked on this story for Bloomberg News while I was in Kathmandu last year. The topic needs much more coverage and so much more action. I have heard reports of at least one Nepali corpse coming into the airport per day from Qatar. It's slavery. And it's worldwide. I'm quite clueless when it comes to international law, but it's obvious that some type of international regulation needs to be in place for migrant workers around the world.

I use an iPhone; I'm writing this on one of my two Mac laptops. It's obvious Apple holds their product design to an incredible high standard. That standard should be reflected in their international labor regulations.

Bibek is just one of millions who are abused and enslaved daily so that we can use our iPhones, computers and other gadgets.

Here in Cambodia, It's not just labor that is being sold. It's women, children and it's horrific. When will this become a major issue for governments around the world? When will international standards be implemented?

Here are some ways to help and become aware.


A Few Photos

CCF offers free medical care to the surrounding community. It's incredible, honestly. We have doctors on hand that perform minor surgeries on site. This little monkey had a high fever for two days. The doctor said she'd be just fine.

This is the CCF bakery, the day a bunch of chef's were graduating. It's a huge warehouse with ovens and classrooms. Smells amazing and the students cook loaves of bread that are given out for FREE to the community every day.

This is the CCF bakery, the day a bunch of chef's were graduating. It's a huge warehouse with ovens and classrooms. Smells amazing and the students cook loaves of bread that are given out for FREE to the community every day.

Found this little guy while teaching some CCF kids a short class on disposable film basics. I had to draw out a canister of film to illustrate what film means. The kids were looking for USB drives to stick the disposable into the camera...insanity.

Found this little guy while teaching some CCF kids a short class on disposable film basics. I had to draw out a canister of film to illustrate what film means. The kids were looking for USB drives to stick the disposable into the camera...insanity.