Xyza Cruz Bacani: We Are Like Air

Xyza Cruz Bacani: We Are Like Air

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PHOTOGRAPHER: Xyza Cruz Bacani
BASED IN: New York, USA/Hong Kong/Philippines
KNOWN FOR: Street photography and documentary projects about migration and the intersections of labor and human rights
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM GFX 50S, X-T3, and X-Pro2 Cameras, FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, XF23mmF1.4 R, and XF56mmF1.2 R Lenses


Xyza Cruz Bacani is a street and documentary photographer who aims to raise awareness about underreported stories through her powerful monochrome photographic style. After spending nearly 10 years as a migrant worker, she is particularly interested in labor migration and the human rights issues surrounding this subject. Fresh from the launch of her new book, We Are Like Air, and accompanying exhibit in Hong Kong, we caught up with Xyza to find out more about this fascinating reportage project that focuses on her mother’s story as a migrant worker and the effect it has had on her life and family.

FUJIFILM X-Photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani - We Are Like Air
FUJIFILM X-Photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani - We Are Like Air

How did the We Are Like Air project begin?

I was photographing migrant worker stories in different cities and I realized there was something missing in the narrative – my mother’s story. With her approval, I spent the subsequent years documenting her life as a migrant worker in Hong Kong, capturing the effect it has had not just on her, but on the whole of my family.

I began the project purely to tell my mother’s story and it was only recently that photographer James Estrin of The New York Times suggested the idea of making a book to help raise awareness of the topic. I applied for grants and luckily the WYNG Media Award (WMA) Commission gave me the support I needed to create We Are Like Air.

What do you hope to achieve?

I hope the book will help people to see how migration can connect different families, despite geographical and economical differences. I hope it helps them see migrants not just as victims, but as champions propping up families in between the migration divide.

What is your favorite image in the series and why?

My favorite image is one of my mother with our family – she looks so happy. In the book you can see how her emotions change when she travels between Hong Kong and the Philippines; it’s a striking visual representation of the challenges faced not just by her, but by migrant workers all around the world.

FUJIFILM X-Photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani - We Are Like Air
FUJIFILM X-Photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani - We Are Like Air

What was the most memorable moment?

The most memorable moment for me was actually after I had completed the project, when my parents came to the We Are Like Air book exhibit, held at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. It was the first time they were able to attend my exhibit and seeing their faces when they arrived was very special. That moment, for me, was priceless.

Can you describe how you use photography as a catalyst for change?

I believe the biggest reason photography is so effective at promoting change is that it has an amazing ability to start discussions. It can bridge the gap between different worlds by allowing different people to witness how others live and, in doing so, informs society about underreported stories. This makes it a fundamental tool in creating conversations.

As a photographer, I hope my work raises awareness about issues I care about, sparks change, and impacts the community.

The photography featured in We Are Like Air is all shot on FUJIFILM gear – why do you have such an affinity with the brand?

I started working with Fujifilm in 2015 and the brand has been very supportive of my journey as a photographer, so aside from the great cameras, I also enjoy working with the great people behind Fujifilm.

FUJIFILM gear has never failed me and always delivers the output I need. I love using the GFX 50S for assignments and the X-Pro2 for street photography. The image resolution from the medium format GFX system allows me to create billboard-sized images that never disappoint, while the compact design and excellent performance of the X-Pro2 means I can carry it with me, wherever I go. My book was shot using these set ups and the images came out beautifully in print.

In addition to the outstanding image quality is the user-friendly design and weather-resistance of selected FUJIFILM gear. The analog controls feel intuitive in the hand, making these systems a pleasure to shoot with, even in challenging conditions.

FUJIFILM X-Photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani - We Are Like Air
FUJIFILM X-Photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani - We Are Like Air

Where next for We Are Like Air?

New York City! There is a book party launch for We Are Like Air in Midtown, NYC in March, which I am extremely excited about. The project is also being exhibited in May at the Christine Park Gallery in Chelsea, NYC.

On top of this, I’m doing some book tours in different parts of Asia, so keep an eye on my website for updates.

Finally, if you could travel back in time to the beginning of your career and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

If I could go back, I would tell myself to slow down a little, reassure myself everything will be OK and if I just keep on building, success will come. I was really scared when I first took the jump into full-time freelancing, but now I feel much more confident about my future.

Xyza Cruz Bacani is a FUJIFILM-compensated professional photographer.

To see more of Xyza’s work, visit her website.

To explore the full X Series lineup, visit X Gear Chooser.

To explore the full GFX medium format system lineup, visit GFX Gear Chooser.