Graphic designer and Freelance photographer from a small Cambodian village. Loves telling story through Design and Photography. 

LocationPhnom Penh, Cambodia
DateMARCH 07, 2018
The meetup

I had a hard time finding Melon Rouge’s office in the streets of Pnom Penh but it was more than worth it. Sophal welcomed me with a big smile and I spent a few hours with her and the entire Melon Rouge team. 

Listen preview
Because I grew up with many social issues, I always see the problem or the issues I want to tell that’s why I got a lot of stories to say in my photography.
Chapter 01
About the designer

Hey Sophal, thank you so much for having me! Can you tell us a bit about yourself ? 

Hey, I'm Sophal Neak. I'm graphic designer at Melon Rouge. I'm also a freelance photographer. I'm from Takéo Province, 3 hours south of Phnom Penh by motorbike. I'm from a village where we only have a Primary School and if you want to continue to Elementary School you have to drive 9 kilometers with your bike so it was a challenge for us to continue studying 10 years ago, the roads were really bad and it was even worse. When I finished high school in 2007, I came to Phnom Penh and studied Arts at the Royal University of Fine Arts. I decided to study graphic design there and was lucky enough to participate to some workshops about Photography, Video and all kinds of creative skills. I was interested by fashion design and photography but they were no school to learn that, so I studied Graphic Design instead for 4 years. I now live and work in Phnom Penh.

I feel like starting with a weird questions so... if you could have one superpower, what it would be and why? 

thinking.. Actually I know. I'd like to spread the word of people that can't talk. I'm doing that for one of my personal project about Women Construction Work. Their condition of work is really hard and no one knows about it so if I could have one superpower it would be to help those kind of people have their voice heard. 


Sophal discussing with coworkers

What led you to Design and Photography? 

I've always liked to draw. Our family was a bit poor and I got blamed by my parents because I was drawing on the book they were buying me to study, on the ground and pretty much everywhere!

You can and should tell a story through both Design and Photography, the difference is only the tools you are using to do so. 

I did not like Mathematics and that's why I chose to study Design: no Mathematics there! I didn't know that it could be a job at that time though but I’m glad I chose this path.

What came first between Design and Photography?

I will say that Photography came first. I like both but they are really different. I feel like I have more constraints with graphic design that I have with photography because I need to design within the constraint of the client whereas as a photographer I tend to work for myself so I can do whatever I want. 

How does being a photographer impact the way you design? 

Photography make me travel to do exhibitions so, in a way it open my eyes and my artistic mind. It allows me to have a broader view. It also helps me with the composition of my design. You can and should tell a story through both Design and Photography, the difference is only the tools you are using to do so.


Flower project

How would you describe your work at Melon Rouge ? 

I do lots of illustrations and branding. I’ve been here for 5 years and I’m always improving thanks to the feedbacks of my teammates that came from all over the world… Even France!

French people are everywhere! On this topic, I’d like to know what are the most challenging things when having people from all over the world at work ? 

The first challenge to overcome is the language barrier for sure. This being said, it’s an amazing opportunity because by having people from all over the place I'm exposed to different way of thinking and working. 

What does your creative process look like from the moment you have an idea of a photo collection to the exhibition itself? 

I will take the leaf project as an example. In my village, the kids are not well educated because we are too far from the school so they start working young to earn money for their families. When I became a photographer I knew that I could tell this story with my art. I went to the village, took some pictures, went back to Phnom Penh asking for feedbacks and went back to the village again. Those projects are always a lot of challenges. One day, I took a picture of this kid almost randomly, he was holding a leaf in front of his face and I thought it was good so I explored it a bit further. 


Leaf Project

Can you tell me what you are working on at the moment ?

I'm working on the layout of the museum of Economy of Phnom Penh with a really short deadline and we are really busy with that. 
I’m also working for Care, an organisation to help Nutrition at government factories. They are not well paid and they don't know much about Healthy Food so we are creating a campaign to help them know more about good nutrition. We’re doing print designs for them too. 


Project for Care by Melon Rouge Agency

What is the project that made you the most proud? 

Hard to say… I think it will be project of people that experienced the Khmer Rouge. I interviewed them about their experience where they nearly died. I took portraits of them with a black background. I want to continue this project and I think it’s a good experience to learn how they struggled to survive during the war. 


Khmer Rouge Project

Where do you find your inspiration? 

For Photography, it’s easy because it’s from the everyday life. Because I grew up with many social issues, I always see the problem I want to tell that’s why I have a lot of stories to tell with my photography. 
For Design, I go to Behance and Pinterest. 

What is the best advice you ever received? 

Our family was poor so we didn't know that we could continue to study so my brother said “We are lucky that we use  because now whatever happens we know how to survive”. It’s hard to explain but as it used to be really difficult, the future can only get better. 


Angkor Wat - © Robin Noguier

Chapter 02
The design industry in Cambodia

How will you describe the Design education system in Cambodia? 

When I started in 2009, there weren’t any school for a graphic design career and at that time in Fine Arts school there were only 6 or 7 students but now it’s better. We have a few universities with graphic design classes. The problem is that they are all located in Phnom Penh so you need to move right after finishing High School. 

They should not follow the trends and spend more time finding themselves in a creative way.

How will you describe the design industry in Cambodia? 

Before it wasn’t really well known but it’s getting better. They are many international agencies in Phnom Penh now like Graphic Roots, Nova and Mango Tango


Sophal gently spying on her coworker

What is your advice for someone who wants to be a designer in Cambodia? 

If they want to become an artist or a creative, they have to like what they do because if they do like it, they will never stop. They should not follow the trends and spend more time finding themselves in a creative way. When they find what they want to do, I would advice them to go study at University because you will not only learn new skills, you will also get inspired by other students. 


Reach out to Sophal

Spread the word

Final boarding call

Where do you
want to go next ?

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