Photographer Ellen Jacob’s current exhibition reflects a curious theme. Cared for by a Black nanny herself as a child, the NYC Upper East Side artist became fascinated by the number of “black women pushing white babies around” on Manhattan’s affluent Upper West Side, MailOnline reports. Jacob’s curiosity inspired her to capture these observations on camera, eventually delving into the lives of nannies willing to share both their personal space and experiences. Her four-year exploration uncovered a number of foreseeable findings.
Many of the caregivers whose ages range from 23-60, live on minimum wage in the nation’s most expensive city. The majority are immigrants of color who receive no sick/vacation days or health benefits. “Being a nanny is a low-paying job where love between the nanny and child is one of the anticipated but universally unspoken duties. This is an unusual expectation in a financial transaction,” Jacob states. “Many [nannies] had their own families once they came home… My work explores the social, racial and economic relationships that powerfully affect life and largely go unnoticed,” she concludes. The work’s title, “Substitutes”, reflects the essence of this peculiar dynamic caught on camera; the selection of captioned imagery tells the stories of numerous nannies caring for children on the streets, playgrounds and parks of Manhattan.
“They told me how they work very long days and are often paid less than the price of the dance classes they were chaperoning children to… Mothers talk about [how] much they love these women and they’re part of the family yet when it comes to money they tend to be much more tight,” Jacob told The Mail. Nonetheless, the photog indicates that despite these circumstances, many of the women were content as long-term nannies, like ‘Gemma’ for example – a nanny to four families for over 20 years who shared that she never got too attached to “her children” due to the temporary nature of their relationship.
Slate reports that Jacob claimed to be moved by the “genuine affection between the nannies and their children and the lengths to which parents would go to help their nanny find employment once the children had grown.” The project allegedly opened her up “to other peoples’ lives. It made [her] have a lot more respect and compassion for other people as a whole,” including her own childhood nanny, Martha. The artist told the Mail, “She was a wonderful woman. I remember her face vividly.