Art of escape: Filipina maid captures dreams through photography

From her poverty-stricken roots in a Philippine backwater, via domestic service in Hong Kong to acclaim in New York, Xyza Cruz Bacani’s inspirational journey started with a camera bought with borrowed money. The 28-year-old came to Hong Kong nine years ago to join 300,000 other women working as maids in the city, hoping to earn enough money to help fund her brother’s education. But photography transformed her life. At first Bacani only shared her pictures with friends on Facebook – mostly shot in grainy black and white, capturing street moments in classic reportage style.

I want people to see that your job, your work, it doesn’t define who you are. The dreams that I had when I was young, I’m having them now.

Xyza Cruz Bacani, domestic worker turned photographer

A Filipino photographer based in San Francisco saw them on Facebook and was intrigued by their originality and quality. From there she came to the attention of the New York Times Lens blog and then of acclaimed photographer Sebastiao Salgado, who praised her work at an exhibition in Hong Kong. Now she’s been named a recipient of a fellowship by the Magnum Foundation, a prestigious scholarship that will allow her to study in New York for six weeks. Last week, she quit her job as a domestic worker.

She said my domestic worker duties […] are restricting me from growing up as a person, it’s a chain that holds me.

Bacani, on the response from her former employer when she quit her domestic worker job