Books & Art

This Filipina Domestic Worker Won Second Place at a National Geographic Photo Contest

Joan Pabona is one seriously talented photographer.
IMAGE Joan Pabona

Last January 31, Filipina Joan Pabona did our country proud when she won second place in a photo contest held by National Geographic and Wheelock Properties in Hong Kong. She entered her photo, titled Sacrifice, in the National Geographic Wheelock Youth Photo Competition’s “People & Happenings in Hong Kong” category. The black-and-white photo depicts a construction worker gathering safety nets. 


“Sa eighth floor sa bahay ng amo ko, natanaw ko iyon habang naglilinis ako,” says Pabona, who works as a domestic helper in Hong Kong. “I chose this for my submission because it’s [a] very artistic and powerful picture. Hong Kongers are very hardworking, versatile, and resilient—and as I observe [them] every day, I can say that they are the engine of the city.”



Sacrifice has a similarity with my daily life as a domestic worker, who works very hard and sacrifices to have a better future and [reach] greener pastures,” she adds. As first runner-up Pabona has won HKD6,500, and Sacrifice will be featured in the February issue of National Geographic magazine’s Chinese edition.

When asked how she feels about winning, she says. “Of course [I’m] very happy kasi ako lang ang nakapasok na non-Cantonese speaking, at ako lang ang babae na nakapasok at [naging] awardee. Malaking karangalan iyon bilang isang Pilipino kasi out of 3,518 photos, lucky [ka] if makapasok ka na as [a] finalist. ’Tas marami na ring proposals at collaborations pero pinag-iisipan ko pa.” 

Joan Pabona


Photography has been a hobby of Pabona’s since her college days in Ilocos Sur, when she started shooting with a Fujifilm film camera. Her affinity for the art came from the enjoyment she took from observing her environment, and her admiration of black and white portraits and micro photography.

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When she moved to Hong Kong, she started saving money to buy another camera. In 2015, she began self-study and attended photography and video workshops, including those of Lensational—a non-profit organization that aims to empower women through photography.


Today, she enjoys wandering the streets of Hong Kong and capturing the city’s everyday scenes. “Photography kasi sa akin ang naging stress reliever dito tuwing day off ko. Kaya hanggang nagtatagal, nahasa nang nahasa ang kaalaman ko. ’Tsaka gusto ko ring kunan mga moments, daily life ng Hong Kong. So nainspire ako nang nainspire pag may nakukuha akong maganda,” she says.

Her employers are very supportive of her artistic pursuits. “Happy at proud na rin [sila], kasi naging makabuluhan ang pagstay ko dito because of photography,” she adds.



Pabona has also directed a one-minute video that was included in an exhibition called Beyond Myself – Filipino Migrant’s Investments in Philippine Futures. Held at Goldsmiths’ in London, the exhibition is visiting the Vargas Museum from February 15 to 17.

“Ang pamagat ng video ay ‘The Make Up Artist.’ Iyon yung project namin noon sa workshop na naganap sa Hong Kong University, supported by Voices of Women Media,” Pabona explains.

If her Facebook page is any indication, Joan Pabona is one seriously talented and versatile photographer who’s going to go places.

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Angelica Gutierrez
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