Xyza Cruz Bacani (inset) portraits people on Hong Kong streets, including foreign maids and ethnic minorities, in her photography. Photo: Photo District News / Instagram

Xyza Cruz Bacani, the Filipino domestic worker who is now a photographer, is among the “30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2017.”

Photo District News, which is a well-known American photography magazine, shortlisted her from 300photographers worldwide.

The 30-year-old Bacani had been a domestic worker in Hong Kong for nearly 10 years, before her passion and eye led her down a new career path. Her images focus on people on Hong Kong streets, including foreign maids, workers and ethnic minorities. 

In 2006, Bacani came Hong Kong to work as a domestic worker when she was 19. She first tried her hand at painting, then bought a camera by borrowing money from her employer.

“I was like, ooh … magic!” she recalled her experience for taking her first photo. She then carried the camera everywhere. “At night I snuck out from my employer’s home to take pictures.”

After documentary photographer Rick Rocamora discovered her street pictures on Facebook, he brought her to the attention of the New York Times, which debuted her work on Lens blog in 2014. Journalists who did stories about her began sending assignments her way. In 2015, she came to New York on a Magnum Foundation Human Rights Fellowship.

With mentoring from Susan Meiselas, Bob Sacha and others, she learned storytelling and multimedia skills. Bacani now supports herself primarily through print sales and editorial assignments that make it possible for her to pursue her ongoing project about immigrant labor around the world.

“Because of my sexy background story, I got a lot of media exposure,” she said in an interview with the Photo District News.

“She organizes often complex photographs really well,” said James Estrin, co-founder of the Times Lens blog. “Why I’m so impressed is that she moved into doing this incredibly important work on domestic workers…she has the access, and ability to see it like nobody else can.”

Bacani had won a number of awards, which include the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting Travel Grant, Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia, the Magnum Foundation Human Rights Fellowship, BBC 100 Women of 2015, Visionaries 2015 and the Justice Centre Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize.

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