In Zachary Balber’s series Tamim - which roughly translates from Hebrew as “perfect” - most of the photographed men wear the kippah that Balber was Bar Mitzvah-ed in, however they saw fit.
In the photographs, the men take their shirts off and reveal themselves to the world as Jewish, proud and unashamed, something Balber could not do as a child. They expose their problems, heritage, insecurities, fears and humanity through these portraits. Balber describes these men as his “lost tribe, untraditional Jewish men.” Despite their exteriors, Balber and the men in these photographs shared their disconcerting experiences of being men in a world disconnected from the truth. Whereas before, they hid their culture and heritage under tattoos and vanity in order to assimilate, they now stand proud as Jewish men; Tamim and unashamed to be themselves.
Balber grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and was transported to a magnet school located in the middle of the projects. The first thing he learned in school: it was not cool to be white and definitely not white and Jewish. He later found himself in a situation where he was faced with going to prison or rehab. Fortunately for Balber, the Judge was Miami’s Jeffrey Rosnick decided to give him a chance to change his life and sent him to rehab. It was there that he met, as he describes, strange and recalcitrant men who took him under their wing. Balber became a circuit speaker for young adults, sharing his experiences and mentoring those who were facing similar situations.
On a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel, Balber saw the power of photography as it captured the stark and horrific reality that was the Holocaust. He states that making Tamim was his Steven Spielberg moment. As Spielberg was reintroduced to his faith through filming Schindler's List, Balber’s reconnection point was photographing his subjects for Tamim. Despite his initial rejection of Judaism, Balber’s portraits led him to rediscover the culture that is now his lifeline.