Photographer Zack Balber’s solo show at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, in Wynwood, opened before sundown on Saturday, in time for Art Walk and just before Yom Kippur was over. For observant Jews, the timing might seem sacrilegious: Yom Kippur is the holiest days of the year, and for a Jew to open the refrigerator — let alone an art exhibition — on that solemn day of fasting and atonement violates orthodox decorum.
But it felt fitting that Tamim opened when it did. The show, Balber’s first at Snitzer, comprises 11 large portraits of people the photographer considers “untraditional Jews,” whether because they have scores of tattoos (a taboo in the Jewish community) or for another violation of religious or social norms. In Hebrew, tamim translates as “pure”, “unblemished”, or “complete”. But the title of the show is not ironic, says Balber. To him, these outsiders are pure — not in spite of their imperfections — but because of them.
Balber, a Jew originally from Pittsburg who moved to Miami as a kid, says he always “gravitated” to outsider Jews, even earlier in life when he spurned his religion. For one reason or another, “they were always on the opposite side of the stereotype,” he says.
Now, after a “crazy” childhood that included drugs, fighting, and his father being imprisoned, Balber identifies as a Jew and serves in the role of “spiritual mentor” to several of the people featured in the Tamim series. This intimacy between photographer and sitter resulted in arresting portraits, in which the subjects’ seeming impenetrability gives way to vulnerability, even invitation.