The Hebrew word Tamim translates as “pure”, “unblemished”, and “complete”. Photographer Zack Balber offers his unique, incongruous twist on Tamim’s denotation. Using portrait photography as his vehicle, Balber intimately uncovers the camouflaged identity of some of Judaism’s most unfamiliar Jews.
Born and raised in gritty inner-city neighborhoods throughout the country, both the photographer and many of his subjects were void of Jewish role models. Instead of praising their ancestry, they concealed their culture behind tattoos and vanity in a pursuit to assimilate.
Relocated to the close-knit Jewish community in Miami, Balber began to reconnect with his roots. During his cultural rediscovery, he encountered men who were similarly unorthodox yet retained that indefinable Jewish spark. Interestingly, when approached with the opportunity to be photographed as Jews, these ordinarily recalcitrant men let go of their powerful exteriors and embraced the vulnerability of portrait photography. When the participants donned the yarmulke that Zack Balber wore for his Bar Mitzvah, each of them expressed a spiritual reconnection to their culture, captured within these photographs.
Balber’s portraits of men who are ostensibly Tamim--proud, unashamed, and whole—exquisitely reveal their insecurity, vulnerability, and fear of exposure. Although their appearances may initially distract us from their inner reality, the tattoos and bling cannot obscure their heritage of Hebrew day school, spiritual mentors, or even the Holocaust... In an introspective discussion on his body of work, Balber noted, “that religion is far
more than skin deep and that a connection with G-d can always be reignited.”