Cover Photo By Cory Rice

Hong Kong-based, Filipina documentary photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani takes us behind the lens of her camera, and lets us in on her thought process when capturing compelling photographs.

On her first Tatler cover shoot assignment back in October 2019, I had the pleasure of working with Xyza and had gotten to know the renowned photographer intimately. I use the word intimately loosely, as our three-day journey into a small secluded town in General Santos had us working in extremely close proximity from the minute we landed in Davao City, until an army tank escorted us out of the mountains at the end of our trip. Earthquakes, fire alarms in the middle of the night and all other misadventures ensued. The multi-awarded photographer proved to be a steady force within our small team. Xyza is no stranger to nerve-racking work environments, after all, she braves protest-filled streets at the break of dawn and roams cities’ dark alleys well into the night. She’s most sought-after for her engaging visual stories that exposes deep societal issues and their burgeoning unrest.

As I watched her at work firsthand; her sharp focus is evident. She portrays keen mindfulness and depth as she stares out into the surroundings, taking every detail into account. Perhaps due to her colorful life experiences, Xyza's photographs are unmistakably thought-provoking and poignant, reflecting a level of gentle sincerity. She has skillfully mastered capturing her subjects in that split-second-moment, when they are at their most vulnerable. An exceptional field photographer, Xyza’s forte is making use of available light, weather conditions, and the natural environment. Like a true creative led by instinct, spontaneity proved to be most important in our collaboration.

This Gen T Honouree has been awarded as one of the Outstanding Women of the Nation’s Service in the field of Humanities, Asia’s 21 Young Leaders in 2018, Pulitzer Center and Society Moving Walls grantee, Forbes’ 30 under 30 Women Photographers Asia in 2016 and one of BBC’s 100 Women of the World in 2015. Add to that long list of achievements, she is also an author of her book titled We Are Like Air, Xyza Cruz Bacani shares a thing or two about photography in a short interview below:

What is your camera of choice?

I choose the Fujifilm cameras, especially the medium formats. I love the colour of the files, and it is easy to use.

How do you feel about the rise of high powered smartphone cameras vs. DSLR and point and shoot?

I’m ok with high powered smartphone cameras, it democratises photography and allows everyone to record their own stories. It is not comparable with DSLR cameras when it comes to professional quality and prints.

When did you realize you have an eye for photography?

I honestly haven't thought about it. All I know is I love the process of taking lyrical photographs, and that's what I do. The outside validations are nice though and very much welcomed.

What is your favourite thing to photograph? 

I love photographing anything that sparks my curiosity. Issues that make me want to ask questions and find the right answers. I love telling stories of people who have voices but are unheard. I'm always curious about love, tenderness and the beauty of humanity. My work also focuses on representation, trauma, and identity.

What has been the defining moment in your career?

As of now? I got accepted at NYU TISCH graduate school for Masters in Arts and Politics. I do not have an undergrad, so it means the world to me. It’s another chapter of my life and I am quite excited about how it will unfold.

How do you prepare for a big shoot assignment?

I always read books, watch movies, and consume different mediums of art. I think it influences the way I see the world.  When there is a big shoot, I prepare the logistics and create a mood board in my head. I like being in the moment, but having a basic mood board at the back of my head helps a lot when I find myself out of ideas. Preparation is key, it's very important.

Is there something in your life experience that you draw from, which enables you to capture outstanding photographs?

My sexy background story helps a lot! I’m from a poor working-class family and being able to navigate the world with fewer cards than others allowed me to be more compassionate and influenced how I interpret the world. My life experiences became an essential tool in telling stories and being sensitive about the way I tell them.

If there is one photograph you’d like to be remembered by, which one is it? 

The one that I have not taken yet. I don’t want to play favourites with my photographs, they all mean something different to me and I want to continue taking photographs.

Your most unforgettable shoot subject/places? 

I would say it’s from my book We Are Like Air. It’s my most personal and so close to my heart, my skin, that all the images lingers. I have a lot of unforgettable moments cause every shoot is special...

What advice would you give to a novice photographer?

Be so good that they can not ignore you. Be a platform for others. Use your talent to make the world a better place.

To know more about Xyza, visit her official website: http://www.xyzacruzbacani.com/