Un-seen is a project by Elly Valk, a social photographer who travels the world. Through traveling and photographing, she captures stories and experiences that lie beneath the surface, hence the project name UN-SEEN. The project contains the un-seen history of a family who has lived through 30 years of war in Cambodia. The story in this book was told by Khun Ann, a Cambodian mother who lost most of her family during these dark times. For the first time in 50 years she spoke of her experiences. Elly was there to listen and capture this touching and important moment.
From 2019 to 2021, I worked with Elly to design the book that told the ‘UN-SEEN in Cambodia’ story. After the book was completed I assisted in the promotion of the book and in defining the concept of UN-SEEN to a collective place for stories like Khun Ann’s. This resulted in a follow-up project where I designed the UN-SEEN website, a place where stories and images would be collected and presented to the world.
book – THE CHALLENGE:
Design a book that tells the story mostly through modern photographs in alignment with a timeline of the war’s history. The goal of the design is to make the reader visualize, empathize and discover the importance of sharing stories like this one.
Website – The challenge:
Designing a website that visualizes where the unseen stories are hidden.
BOOK – THE SCOPE
We started segmenting the story to find the best way to visualize it. Different time periods got their own chapter with their own specific styles. There story would be told in two paths that could be differentiated from each other;
The personal story
This would be separated in the retelling of the experiences of war and the reflection of their contemporary life. This path tells the main story of the book without giving away too much too quickly. The reader is supposed to connect to the story through the imagery.
The factual history
The personal story needed a fundamental explanation of the factual history to ensure readers wouldn’t get confused on the timeline.
The story got segmented in three categories:
1. Threaths of war
2. Drama and loss
3. Ordinary life
This would make it possible to clearly divide the factual history from the the personal experiences though the different time periods.
Book – THE solution result
By segmenting the storylines and using different style-features per chapter we succesfully translated an visualised the story through paths that would inform the reader about the war and draw them into the personal experiences of the Nget family.
The book starts of with a introduction to the war in Cambodia and the Nget family. This is followed by a chapter in black and white pages. It retells the families experiences during the bombings, attempting to draw the reader into Khun Ann’s memories. In this chapter only one small piece of text and one large image is displayed per spread to give the reader space to visualize and empathatize with specific moments in the storyline.
After the ‘black’ pages we follow the Nget family members through the thirty-year war. To guide the reader though this timeline, the spreads were separated in three blocks:
– Left– The factual history
– Middle– The families’ experiences during that time
– Right – A photograph that symbolizes the families experiences
Website – scope
The concept of ‘UN-SEEN’ would become an overarching term for the untold stories that we fail to see and learn from. This would best be visualised by a ‘black box’ that Elly liked to refer to when talking about stories hidden from light. The website would be designed as the content of this black box. It would be set in a scene where viewers would be encouraged to seek beyond the surface.
Website – THE result
Through 3D-animations and content-transitions I designed a website that guides viewers into the black box and through it’s content.
The website opens with an animation of a lid coming off the black box, inviting the viewer to take a closer look by continuing to the homepage. On the homepage an animation is set to symbolize diving into the box. With that, the content starts to appear.
To give the site a mysterious look and feel, it is set in a dark style and the interface doesn’t display more content than necessary.
Different projects fade in and out as the viewer ‘walks’ through the box.