Ellen Jacob | Substitutes
I live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Here, the women pushing the strollers are almost always
black and the children white. I wondered why; my wondering became this multi-year project,
My work explores the social, racial and economic relationships that powerfully affect life and
largely go unnoticed. My images are about the things that seem natural, but aren’t. The women in these photographs are substitute parents. 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.
For me, the situation raised issues of racism and exploitation. Most of the women, nannies and
employers, say race doesn’t matter. But if race doesn’t matter, why these persistent racial divides?
When I was young, a wonderful woman named Martha took care of me; she was black and I am
white. I haven’t seen Martha for over 30 years, but I remember her face vividly. “Substitutes” is
about the indelible impressions these women leave, and the persistent questions they raise.