How Photographer Zack Balber's Portraits of Bear Jews Helped Him Find Religion

Categories: Art
When we first encountered Zack Balber's work, he was exhibiting photos of hookers at the Spinello Gallery. He'd arranged to split sales with their pimps after paying the streetwalkers $10 for a "date" to pose for him.

"Tamim," his first solo show at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, opens on October 5. Balber's subjects do not look like the squeaky-clean Bear Jews typically drafted for the Bislamach Brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces. In fact, a portrait depicts a notorious E-thug who mocked Miami-Dade cops on YouTube, making national news and earning him time in the slammer.

The 27-year-old Balber spoke to us about his own Bear Jew brotherhood, how attending school in Pittsburgh made him forsake his heritage, and the spiritual reawakening inspired by his project.

Zack Balber TONYedited.jpeg
Courtesy Fredric Snitzer Gallery
Zack Balber Tony
​New Times: What does "tamim" mean in Hebrew?
Zack Balber: Tamim in Hebrew means, pure, unblemished, whole, perfect, which is what these men are to me, perfectly imperfect, proud, unashamed, vulnerable, scared, confident, and insecure. One of the images entitled Efraim is of my spiritual mentor my rabbi, if you will.

We were discussing the images and he said I am not ashamed of being fat, gay, or Jewish, he said I look proud, which he does, and radiates a happiness and fulfillment that one gets as a byproduct of walking a spiritual path. To me they are all Tamim, effortlessly themselves, the good and the bad.

How long have you been working on this series?
I started thinking of this series while I was still in my undergraduate program at New World School of the Arts. The best answer I can give you is that G-d has probably been working on this series in me for a long time, I just finally had enough courage to step up to the plate, and confront myself through the images of these men, the knights of my round table. So, I have been given breadcrumbs of this series for about the past two and a half years.

Zack Balber JOSHUA edited.jpeg
Courtesy Fredric Snitzer Gallery
Zack Balber Joshua
Tony has "Feel My Pain" tattooed across his collarbone and tears boasting jail time. Joshua inked Hannibal Lecter's scowling mug over his liver. Ye,t you cracked that façade, capturing a sense of their vulnerabilities. Where and how did you find these subjects and how did you earn their trust?
The men in the images were all around me metaphorically speaking. One flew down from Pittsburgh and some of the guys I had to search for. The trust factor has been a work in progress for a long time. These men spoke for me, I am one of the Bear Jews but in order to stay alive and out of jail I had to learn to become vulnerable myself. As I grew up, and my perspective on life shifted as a result of Dade County Court Systems, and Judge Rosnick managing my life for me, I was introduced to a lot of the men who years later became the subjects of this body of work.

Location Info


Fredric Snitzer Gallery

1540 NE Miami Ct., Miami, FL

Category: General

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Nice work, I look forward to the show.


Jew gotta be kidding me


This kid truly has talent and is going places. Look beyond the rough nature of the I dividual depicted in the photo and concentrate on the actual emotion caught within the photo.

Interesting work.


Fred does it again. More trigger happy gangstahs for your viewing pleasure.I don't whether every time I walk into Fred's if I am looking at a mild form of art or mindless gang promotion.I think I am lucky to even walk out unharmed.His roster is becoming more infiltrated by no talent gang mongering airheads.

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