Living Here Living In Hong Kong

Reigniting a passion in Hong Kong

By: Rebecca Simpson

LEEH ANN HIDALGO is a photographer first, and a domestic helper second. Her work explores everyday life in Hong Kong and helps her become more connected to our city and its people. This June, Leeh Ann will be exhibiting at HK Arts Centre as part of an event hosted by HELP for Domestic Workers. The event will mark UN International Domestic Workers Day 2020 (16 June). We caught up with Leeh Ann to hear about her experience in Hong Kong and her passion for photography.

Domestic worker
Aqualuna by Leeh Ann Hidalgo

When did you come to Hong Kong?

I arrived on 15 January in 2013.

What was your first impression?

Prior to coming here, I always thought that Hong Kong is what it seems in the photos from the magazines and on the internet; that is, a very warm and welcoming place. Having been able to work here, I’ve realised that yes, it is that kind of place if you are a tourist. But for someone who has to live and work here, it’s quite different. You have to work hard and learn how to fight the stigma associated with being a migrant worker, especially a domestic worker.

Was photography an interest before you came to Hong Kong?

Yes, I’ve been interested in photography since I was teenager. I used to have a film camera (I had to earn money to buy the film and develop it) to take random photos, mostly of my friends and classmates, but nothing serious. Just a hobby.

What ignited – or reignited – your passion for photography?

The realisation that I need to have something to do to help me cope up with the difficult situations I have to face in a foreign country. I had to adjust to a new job and new environment. Most importantly, I needed to have an outlet for the things I’m feeling and thinking. I needed something to consider as a personal therapy for me not to give up. Photography helps me cope up with homesickness and other negative feelings brought on by coming here to Hong Kong. I needed a way to express my thoughts and feelings and a way to feel connected to the city and its people.

What’s your favourite Hong Kong subject or place to shoot?

My favourite would be the daily scenes. These make me feel more connected to the city and the people. It’s these scenes that make me feel like I too am part of Hong Kong. I also like visiting abandoned islands and streets. Those areas may seem normal and ordinary, but for me, they are full of stories. When you’re able to preserve these stories using photography, it allows the viewer to relate to the scene and the emotions it contains.

What is your aspiration for your art?

My aspiration for my art is that the people who look at it will feel the emotion and story that I want to relay. I want them to feel that what they are seeing is not just my story, but their story as well. I also want my art to help the domestic workers community be better understood by society and let them know that we are more than our job.

What are you long-term plans?

Honestly, I’m the type of person that doesn’t plan. I’m the type that goes with the flow. But hopefully, I won’t have to stay very long here in Hong Kong being a domestic worker. I hope that my love for photography will take me somewhere. I know I need to work hard in order for that to happen. For now, I just have to enjoy the things related to my job and enjoy the times I go out with my camera wandering through Hong Kong.

How are you involved in HELP for Domestic Workers?

I’m doing a collaboration with HELP where my photos will be exhibited at their upcoming event. Prior to that, HELP has been one of the organisations that I really look up to as they’re doing a great job in assisting domestic workers. Since I learned about them, I’ve been waiting for the chance to be able to collaborate with them.

HELP for Domestic Workers aids the helper community in Hong Kong by providing free advice and assistance on matters of employment, immigration and human rights. Learn more here:

Related reading: The ultimate guide to hiring a domestic helper in Hong Kong