Zack Balber and Lamia Khorshid are local photographers. One is Jewish, the other Muslim. One focuses the lens outward, the other inward. One is a recent New World School of the Arts grad; the other teaches photography at the University of Miami. One is a product of mean streets; the other grew up pampered by her close-knit family. Both of their shows are up through early November a few blocks apart in Wynwood.
Zack Balber, 27, grew up in Pittsburgh, where his mother relocated after divorcing when he was a youngster. "Tamim," his solo debut at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, features photographic portraits of fellow "bear Jews" he says inspired him to embrace his Jewish faith. That term was used by the Germans in the film Inglourious Basterds to describe Sgt. Donny Donowitz, who enjoyed beating Nazis to death with a baseball bat.
New Times: What does tamim mean in Hebrew?
Zack Balber: Tamim means pure, unblemished, whole, perfect, which is what these men are to me — perfectly imperfect, proud, unashamed, vulnerable, scared, confident, and insecure. To me, they are all tamim, effortlessly themselves, the good and the bad.
How long have you been working on this series?
The best answer I can give you is that God 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.
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.
How difficult was it to persuade these fellows to don the yarmulke you wore for your own bar mitzvah?
The yarmulke in Judaism is used as a constant reminder that there is something bigger than you, a God if you will. Searching for the yarmulke shots became cathartic. So in each image, I believe I captured these men in their own way publicly acknowledging God, even if they were not conscious of it.
Can you elaborate on how that notion of God struck you and what has changed in your life as a result of it?
I grew up in Pittsburgh, and the Jews I was hanging around were tough — some ended up in prison, drug dealers or the like. I was never proud to be a Jew growing up. I would let people assume Irish or whatever, because I knew that I didn't have the "Jewish look." As I got older, it became more and more evident that I have an undeniable connection with Jews as much as I tried to fight against it. Now I stand as one of my subjects in "Tamim" because I no longer have to hide to fit in.
For "Hotel St. Michel," on view at Curator's Voice Art Projects, Lamia Khorshid, 34, rented a room in a Coral Gables hotel, where she focused the lens inward to create a series of self-portraits inspired by the chaotic fallout of her divorce.
New Times: Dealing with divorce can be a nightmare. Why did you choose to air your dirty laundry?
Lamia Khorshid: I often make work that draws from personal experience. Divorce and breakups are a common social occurrence, and if, through this shared experience of heartache, we are able to find solace and understanding, then art has successfully functioned to describe the human condition.
Your work explores issues of identity and femininity. Despite the formalist descriptions, how visceral was it to revisit the turmoil that divorce caused you?
From a feminist perspective, we need to examine marriage from a woman's stance. When a marriage ends, in addition to loss of the relationship, loss of partner, loss of property, loss of trust, loss of a previously envisioned future (those things are shared loss across gender), there is an additional loss that is the woman's alone: loss of identity. The social custom in this country is that the woman often takes her husband's last name upon marriage. As a feminist and an independent woman, I thought about this a lot before my wedding day. However, I made the claim that a woman's last name is not her own to begin with; we trade our father's last name for our husband's last name.
The series you are working on is called Inherent Spaces. Does the environment help to conceptually mold the body of work?
I decided to go to the Coral Gables area for many reasons. In the history of architecture, the City Beautiful movement (from the '20s) was close to my heart. The movement also incorporated Mediterranean revival styles, which was close to my Middle Eastern heritage.
You mentioned that when you were a youngster, your family moved frequently. Can you elaborate?
It is important to reflect on our definitions of home. Mine had changed so drastically upon my separation. When I was younger, my family moved constantly, so the physicality of home was not something that had to remain constant as I was growing up. The longest amount of time I had ever stayed in the same place was when I was with my ex, and that amount of time was nine years. Separation and divorce immediately uprooted me from that stability. For a long time, I felt that wherever I was living was only temporary. Upon my separation, the apartment I moved into remained unfurnished for over a year.
Do you still have relatives or friends in Egypt?
My entire extended family is still in Egypt. I am planning a trip to my homeland in 2012. I want to take my project about home into a new direction, perhaps to the very beginning! I will have the chance to photograph myself in the actual house where I was born in 1977 in Cairo.
Read both artists' full interviews on our culture blog, Cultist.