The story of the American street photographer Vivian Maier, who worked most of her life as a nanny and was discovered and lauded as one of the last century’s greatest photographers after her death in 2009, has captured the imagination of documentarians, curators, and young photographers.
So the comparisons were inevitable when a 27-year-old Filipino domestic worker from Hong Kong, Xyza Cruz Bacani, earned a slot as a Human Rights Fellow at New York University’s prestigious Magnum Foundation.
Selected as one of seven fellows for 2015, Bacani expressed her excitement on Facebook on Jan. 22: “All dreams are valid!” she wrote. She showcases her photography on a website and her Instagram account.
The foundation, which works closely with NYU’s famous Tisch School of the Arts, covers fellows’ expenses and offers training and mentorship in photography. Past fellows have gone on to work for the New York Times and TIME, among other outlets.
Bacani grew up in Nueva Vizcaya, in the Philippines, where she also studied photography while attending college, and later moved to Hong Kong to join her mother, also a domestic worker. There she works for an elderly woman, taking care of her grandchildren during their visits.
While working full-time as a “helper,” she took photos in her spare time, starting off with a Nikon D90 bought with money borrowed from her boss. (Unlike the experience of some of Hong Kong’s abused domestic workers, Bacani’s boss paid her overtime and gave her extra money to buy photography equipment.)
The New York Times (paywall) reported last summer:
With camera in hand, the “glorified nanny” transforms into a “lone wolf” or “stray cat,” prowling the street. When she’s using her phone to shoot under-the-radar, she’s a ninja, capturing scenes that emphasize light slicing through towering buildings before it hits the streets, shifting by the minute.
“When you see the light, you need to press the shutter,” she said. “Or else it’s gone.”
Bacani tells Quartz that she has been compared to Maier a lot, but she finds the comparison uncomfortable. Despite having similar day jobs, their photographic styles are very different, she says: ”I just want to shoot, and tell stories of those people who are unheard.”