Ellen Jacob

Through the Lens of Social Justice



Artist Statement:

My practice is rooted in social justice.  

Even though we have very different backgrounds, come from different places and hold differing beliefs, there is sameness in our diversity. We often feel divided and isolated, and we offer myriad reasons for this isolation: race, class, politics, religion, gender, economics, birthplace and more. James Baldwin said: “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.” I want my images to seek those hidden questions. 

In this series I photograph immigrants against graphic backgrounds of walls to bring attention to the victims of the war against immigrants. The faces of the undocumented are hidden, highlighting how invisible they must be. Citizens and documented immigrants’ faces are shown.  

I see this work as an approach to portraiture in the service of social engagement. It is born of a need to protect the undocumenteds’ invisibility while making them very visible. Faces remain hidden and intimate portraits emerge through subtle body angles, wrinkles in clothing, hairstyles, a head tilt, a battered backpack, a tattoo, a hand gesture.  

My artistic goal is to break down the barriers and strengthen our communities. I create these images because we must build human connections between the undocumented and the rest if we are to tear down the walls that divide us. I create these images in collaboration with each person, choosing their wall and position to be photographed together. 


Ellen Jacob is an award-winning visual artist/photographer whose work focuses on issues of social justice. She is a recipient of a Ford Foundation grant and a Lower Manhattan Arts Council grant. Her work is exhibited intentionally and throughout the United Stated. She is a Josephine Herrick teaching photographer and taught at San Francisco Art Institute. She is a member of Soho Photo Gallery in New York City and holds a BFA with honors from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.  


Immigrants: Alejandra (2018) 
Digital / Nikon D810 / Hahnemühle Photo Rag Bright White 310gm / Lightroom and Photoshop 
40” x 30”/ 43.5” x 33.5” 

Alejandra, shown wearing a Deportado/Depote T-shirt, an immigrant rights advocate, was born in Mexico and brought to the US by her parents as a baby. She was detained by ICE after being part of protests against ICE and currently there is an order of deportation against her. 


Immigrants: Ramesh and Janice (2017) 

Digital / Nikon D810 / Hahnemühle Photo Rag Bright White 310gm / Lightroom and Photoshop 
40” x 30”/ 43.5” x 33.5” 

Ramesh, photographed with his wife Janice, is from central Guyana, lost his green card after more than a decade in the U.S. due to a non-violent criminal conviction. He served his time and then was detained by ICE. He and his American wife Janice fought won a pardon from the New York state governor and fought his deportation.