Xyza Bacani: How Social Media Helped Propel Her Photography Career

A former domestic worker in Hong Kong who shot to fame through her black-and-white street photography has certainly found a new calling: telling the world the life of migrant workers she immersed herself in.

“Because I can relate to them, I’m one of them. I always say to people na this is my story. This is their story, and in a click of finger pwedeng story mo rin,” says Xyza Bacani, who just finished a scholarship at New York University and is now documenting stories of victims of human trafficking. It is due for publishing in the United States.

“I like being close to people I photograph. I like knowing their daily activities, their dreams, their aspirations, their hopes. I like knowing that so I like being a documentary photographer,” she said.

In 2006, she dropped out of college and joined her mother in Hong Kong to work for a Chinese-Australian family as a nanny. During her spare time, she’ll roam the city taking photos of Hong Kong’s daily life. Abused helpers in a refuge house, passengers in a movie tram, women waiting outside one of Wan Chai’s clubs and local pedestrians braving the hot summer sun are among her subjects. While Bacani’s photos feature all walks of life and a diverse range of emotions, they are all captured in black and white images.

Not long after her Bacani shared these images on social media, they began to get noticed. Her story would soon be featured on CNN, New York Times, South China Morning Post and other media outlets as with her photography work as the main feature.

She just finished a scholarship offer from the Magnum Foundation Fellowship for Human Rights scholarship, but will return to the United States to take up The Missouri Photo Workshop scholarship after attending an exhibit about migrant workers in Hong Kong.

Now that she is more empowered to capture the lives of migrant workers, and with gig assignments to the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Turkey and Switzerland up next, Bacani is keen to fulfill a simple dream.

Photo credit: Xyza Cruz Bacani
Photo credit: Xyza Cruz Bacani

“Ang dream ko lang mapauwi ko yung mommy ko. That’s why I’m really working hard because I want her to go home and be with my family,” she said.