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.


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  • MimiLuvs


    “…Sorry, I am just angry at this article…”

    For what reason?
    IMO, the exhibition is not bashing nannies. It’s more like shining a light on a few.

    • Lorren

      I think the article is backhanded and the comments on here offensive. Like I said, these women (many of them) a proud to not be on welfare and get up every day and do something useful. I benefitted from that kind of courage and to heck with anyone who shames black women domestics.

  • Ijustcant.com

    These folks need to raise their own kids so. My hat is off to those that do the nanny thing. I couldnt do it some of these employers are totally delusional about being fair and the pay they dole out!

  • Lorren

    I am all for fair wages, better workplace environment and equal pay for women. However, I hate the way articles like these, comments like the ones on this thread pretend to care about domestic workers and then send out backhanded comments about these women. Some people don’t believe in welfare and depending on the system. Some women are strong and courageous and will do anything to feed their families. What job has more value then taking care of an innocent child at the end of the day? In fact, I think it is quite heroic. Also, my mother never put us second. She went to work, came home in the evening, helped us with our schoolwork and got up early the next morning to do it again. Also, in general, the workforce for Americans is problematic. Those of you who are shaming these women: how much benefit are you getting from your employer? At the end of the day, when it is time to give a pink slip, does your Fortune 500 care any more about you then these employers care about these women? I also know, off record, that a lot of these women are here illegally or newly arrived so I think in some way it might be exploitative but on the other hand, it is a job they can do and feed their families until they become legal. I know employers who personally paid their nannies to get legal status in the US. Are there awful families? Yes, just like there are awful CEOS. Also, why are al the children white? I went to college with a ton of black kids who had nannies and were very wealthy. Where are those families? All I can say is don’t judge people on what they do to eat and survive. My daddy walked out on my mom, my brother and I when I was 5. If she wasn’t a nanny, what would have happened to us? My mom didn’t even have her GED. Because of her, I now graduated 2nd in class from a major university, thank you very much.

  • Caity

    Stories like this always give me a sort of cognitive dissonance. See, for about 7 years my family hired au pairs to help take care of us. They came from South Africa, Germany, Lithuania, and France. And I know that there are so many people who abuse their nannies, and there are so many class and race and immigrant issues at work when we talk about childcare — but that’s not the experience my family had.

    7 years later, I’m still in contact with all my au pairs. I’ve meet their families. We’ve been invited to their weddings (both overseas and here), the christenings of their babies, birthday parties, etc. Actually, this past summer we visited one former au pair, got to catch up with her, her husband, her baby, her big sister and sister’s children, and got to meet her younger sister and mother who’d just recently got a travel visa so she could visit her daughters in the states. Her children call me “Auntie Caity” and I consider them my big sisters, and they think of me as a little sister.

    So, I guess this was all to say that you get out of programs like that what you put in. I have 7 more sisters around the world I count on in times of trouble, and who I and my family would move heaven and earth to help. I have 5 little nieces and nephews who look up to me. We’ve heard about the families that don’t take the time to get to know and love their au pairs, who view them as nothing more as childcare rather than people. That might even be the norm, and I find that to be so disgusting. But I think that, if you treat the nannies, au pairs, whoever, the way you would want your daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, etc. to be treated in a similar situation, you’ll let so much love into your life, and enrich your existence.

  • Hope Jones

    I know that these women have to do what they have to do to make a living. But every time I see a black woman caring for these little white babies it makes me cringe because it conjures up images of slavery. Just being honest.