ellen jacob
Photo by Ellen Jacob.

A photo show called Substitutes on display in SoHo turns the lens on the nannies who take care of children on the Upper West Side. Local photographer Ellen Jacob spent four years photographing nannies at work in the neighborhood, taking pictures of them and the children they care for.

At first she took photos of the nannies anonymously, but began to develop relationships with them and would accompany them for hours or days at a time, Slate notes. Jacob was struck by the love that nannies felt for the children.

“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 wrote.

The photos do a remarkable job of documenting a group of people who can sometimes be invisible in the neighborhood. You can see some of them on her website.

We asked Jacob whether the parents of the children featured had given her permission to take photos of their kids. She said in some cases they did, but not always: “My position is that no permission is required. The 1st amendment agrees. I feel strongly about journalists and artists rights and don’t want them minimized.”

The nannies and children are in public places, where it’s legal to shoot photos of people with or without their permission. That said, parents are sometimes wary of people they don’t know taking their child’s picture. (For that reason, we were reticent to use the photos with children in them with this article, although they were published in Slate, Huffington Post and other outlets.)

Jacob’s photos are on view at SohoPhoto at 15 White Street through Feb. 1. A reception will be held there on January 30 from 6 to 8 p.m.

ART | 14 comments | permalink
    1. Cato says:

      It’s great that “local photographer” Jacob considers herself an expert on constitutional law as well as photo-taking.

      But if she has any plans to sell any of her photographs (and she *is* displaying them at a private gallery, where works often are sold), then she might want to talk to a (real) lawyer, or at least take a look at New York’s Civil Rights Law Article 5, entitled “Right to Privacy”. Among other things, selling a photograph of another person without the subject’s consent — or of a child without the consent of the parent — is a misdemeanor (section 50) and also may be the subject of a civil action for an injunction or for money damages (section 51).

      Civil Rights Law article 5, including links to those sections, may be found on line at

      Ms Jacob may have a right to *shoot* pictures of people out in public, but that doesn’t give her the right to *sell* their pictures without their permission.

      But then, what do I know? I’m not a photographer.

    2. denton says:

      Cato, I AM a photographer, been shooting on the streets for almost fifty years. It behooves anyone who does the same to know the law, since NYC is full of ‘experts’ (like you, for example) who claim to know exactly why you can’t shoot on the street.

      I don’t why you are mis-interpreting section 50 of the law you link to. But you are. I’ll put it here:

      “A person, firm or corporation that uses for
      advertising purposes, or for the purposes of trade, the name, portrait or picture of any living person”…

      Since you don’t seem to know the difference, I’ll explain it to you, so no one else will be confused. If I take a photo of a woman walking down Fifth Avenue with a dozen roses, I am within my rights to do so as it is a public place. I am creating my art, whether you or she likes it or not, and that IS protected by the Constitution. I can hang the result in a gallery, museum, or publish it in a book, with no recourse or compensation available to my subject.

      What I CANNOT do is walk into a flowershop and suggest that the proprietor run my photograph as an advertisement on the West Side Rag, ‘Fresh Roses, $1 each’. That’s ‘advertising/trade’ as mentioned in the law. It is forbidden without a release from the subject.

      Do you really think that works by Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, etc., populate museums and galleries against the law?

      Nevertheless, here is a recent reference for you. Google Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia. Mr Nussenzweig was an Orthodox Jew whose photo was taken on the street by Mr. DiCorcia, and displayed in a gallery. Referring to the same law as you did, Nussenzweig sued for damages and got his ass handed to him all the way up to the NY Court of Appeals. As it should have been.

      Now, if you want to debate the ETHICS of taking photos of people on the street without permission, that’s a whole other debate.

      And while you’re having that debate, remember that while you’re walking up the street you are being video’d by everyone from private property owners to the NYPD to the DHS.

      • Cato says:

        Actually, no. If you want to snap a photo of a landscape, you’re not under an obligation to track down any passer-by who happens to saunter across the field. That would be impracticable, and the picture you’re creating is one of the landscape, and only secondarily of the person. That’s not what the statutory right to privacy is about.

        It’s different if you walk up to a person and take his or her portrait. Maybe you can get away with the act of clicking the shutter, but when you try to sell the portrait you may well be violating that person’s statutory right of privacy. It’s easy enough to ask permission – you can see that here where the photographer asked some of her subjects for consent, but just decided not to ask others. (“Why risk getting a ‘no’?”, she probably thought to herself.) And the subject of your portrait has the right to be asked before you can sell his or her likeness. Taking, and then commercializing (“selling”), portraits of a child without seeking the parents’ consent? You’re really looking for trouble.

        And here’s another reason that photographers shouldn’t be giving legal advice: The case you cite, Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia, was decided ENTIRELY on the fact that it was filed too late. The decision had NOTHING to do with approving a right to stick a camera in someone’s face and sell the picture, as you suggest.

        If you had done what you’ve asked me to do and Googled the case, you would have found the decision of the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. The decision is on line at . It’s short and fairly readable. If you had read it, you would have seen that the court’s ONLY conclusion was this: “Because the publishing event giving rise to plaintiff’s right of privacy claims first occurred no later than the fall of 2001, more than one year before he commenced suit, plaintiff’s claims are time-barred.”

        You’re lucky if you’ve gotten away with taking and selling people’s unconsented portraits so far, but I wouldn’t be urging others to try the same thing.

    3. denton says:

      In fact, this is one of the times where it might be better NOT to ask permission.

      Employer to nanny: Hey, what are my children doing in some photos all over the internet?

      Nanny ‘a’: Well, I thought it would be OK. Mother, YOU’RE FIRED!!!

      Nanny ‘b’: I don’t know who did that, I never even saw them!!! Mother: Well I’ll just have to call my lawyer.


      • Erica says:

        Leaving aside what is legal and possible, is it right to publish photos of kids without their families’ permission? Parents have good reasons to be wary.

        • Sami Beth Cohen says:

          It’s a picture. They aren’t provocatively posed or in various states of undress. This is a non-issue. If you leave your house, you are accepting this risk. It’s not like the photo is going to steal the subject’s soul. Find something else to complain about. Rats, perhaps. I heard the UES has been complaining a lot lately, let’s show ’em whose boss.

    4. Leslie says:

      The nannies that allowed a STRANGER to photograph their charge should be fired.

      • anon says:

        Do you realize what an obscure thing this is to be concerned about? I’m a nanny, and what I focus on is crossing the street safely, keeping the children happy and protected and maintaining control in a very uncontrolled environment. Honestly, how date you suggest these nannies be “fired”. It is not a nanny a job to look our for photographers unless that nanny is Brad and Angelina’s employee. Thank god I work for a reasonable, intelligent family and not reactionary morons like this. Nannying is an extremely difficult job without someone like you suggesting that nannies be fired for paying attention the myriad of actual, pressing concerns.

        • leslie says:

          if you look at her pic’s, many are posed pictures with the kids face clearly in view and one has the name of a school on the kids shirt. it’s one thing if someone takes it w/o you knowing, but if you POSE for the pic (as many are), you are choosing to violate my kids privacy and my right as a parent to decide who is taking my kids pictures. The photographer was clearly trolling the playground (where she shouldn’t be if she’s not with a child).

          • leslie says:

            i am amazed nannies would pose for pictures for a person they know nothing about. i’m not talking about the pic in this article (but in her entire collection which is on other sites)

        • Bruce Bernstein says:

          thank you, Anon. Amen.

    5. J says:

      There are plenty of photos here where the nannies had no idea their photo was being taken… same with children. SHAME on this photographer! In this sick world we live in, you need to ask before you take photos of children and post them or sell them! There are definitely ways to identify these kids (from a school name on a backpack.. to the location of a bus stop)… and she is being irresponsible! If my kid was in one of these pictures, there would be hell to pay!

    6. Valentina says:

      I don’t care what you “photographers” say about whether you think it is your first amendment right or not, I hope a parent sues this photographer. How dare this photographer think it is her “right” to publish photos of CHILDREN. I am absolutely appalled and disgusted at this. I work in marketing in a very public industry and whenever we have an event with people, we have them sign waivers saying that they ALLOW US to use their photos. And these are consenting adults – not children who don’t know any better. Absolutely reprehensible behavior.

    7. says:

      Nothing happens to any agency or property owner who collects footage of you. Nothing happens to the paparazzi and nothing will happen to this photographer, Why ? because all of you who are complaining with your fingertips on a keyboard are to lazy to actually do something beyond rant on a comment section.You should have gathered up every single mom on the upper west side who is against this style of photography and gone to her reception tonight and gave her a piece of your mind. ??? Why didn’t you