with it's ravenous appetite...yet always leaving you satisfied.

His handsome face and personable appeal became apparent to
the masses from Ruiz’s appearances and participation as a
celebrity judge on several highly related competition reality
series including Tyra Bank’s
America’s Next Top Model and the
who knew hit series
RuPaul’s Drag Race.  Both Banks and the
RuPaul have also posed for his camera and been captured in the
grand Mike Ruiz tradition.  Tyra ironically depicted as a
Metropolis-like mannequin, and RuPaul as none other than
Barbie -- the fully-accesorized variation of the dolly that every
little girl aspires to grow up to be.

The subjects of his work are often powerfully liberating celebrities and are most often
women.  “Veronica Lake...she personifies everything that I’m about stylistically -- she’s
hyper-real.”  It’s not a surprise that he draws from the more glorious days of Hollywood
to inspire his photography.

He attributes his vision and inspiration to his fiercely independent mother.  Ruiz admits
that it was the photographs that he began to take of his mother that put him on track to
becoming one of the world’s most glamorous and visionary creatives.  “She looked just
like Rita Hayworth,” he reminisces.

I ask him about his work.  Ruiz’s muses are strong, sometimes defiant and glorified --
there’s an intense resolute in their postures and attitudes, and I wonder what it took to
draw that emotion out of them.  “I draw
something out of them.  I would
                                                                   never portray a woman in a submission
                                                                   role -- I prefer to put women in
                                                                   positions of power.  I guess I
                                                                   inadvertently draw that out.”  The
                                                                   fortitude in his subjects is clear, but
www.ambiente.us    FEBRUARY | FEBRERO 2010

Mike Ruiz |Re-Imagined
By JC Alvarez

To look at the list of artists across the spectrum that Mike Ruiz has worked with is
beyond measure; to be reminded of the iconic imagery that he’s produced over the
years now gracing the most chic Manhattanite’s flat, to our laptops and mobile devices
in our digitally saturated world is even more impressive.  But this is but one facet
worthy of exploration of this multi-talented, multi-faceted individual.

In approaching my research of the artist, of course I was drawn to the imagery he’s
produced as one of the industry’s leading photographers.  He’s captured the naughtier
nature of
American Idol pop sensation Kelly Clarkson for her most recent album
release, turned comedian and gay icon Kathy Griffin into a prom queen for the cover of
her best selling book, and given us hundreds of hungry Hollywood glamour pics with
his near predatory approach to his art and wickedly keen eye.

There's a Jolly Rancher® hard candy quality to his work, and like the man himself, it
makes you eager to want to unwrap it, savor the full flavor and cut your teeth on it.  It's
visceral...iconic, sweet --
yet never demure.  It can evoke
sensations hot as fire, cold as ice --
tempt you with it's unbridled
sensuality and swallow you whole


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there’s often a glint of joy in their eye, a sparkle in their wide angle smiles and
sometimes you’ll find a melancholy sense in their faraway expressions --the
                                   density of emotion is as varied as a favorite box of
                                                   Crayola® Crayons -- of the 64 color variety.

                                                          And then with a significant glimmer in his
                                                      eyes, his reminded again of his greatest

                                                          “My mom, who is no longer with us...I put her
                                                                   on a pedestal -- I look for that quality in
                                                                           a woman and portray it visually.”
                                                                                  I can relate with Ruiz’s desire to
                                                                                     capture the indomitable
                                                                                        strength in women; my
                                                                                           mother was herself a very
                                                                                             powerful and larger than
                                                                                              life presence -- but with a
                                                                                              rare vulnerability that
                                                                                              she often did not allow
                                                                                            the world to see.  The
                                                                                           same can be said for the
                                                                                        work Ruiz has consistently
                                                                                     delivered.  About his mother
                                                                                   he says, “she’s always been
                                                                                such a strong force in my life.”

                                                                          His mother was French Canadian.
                                                                          The Montreal, Canada native
                                                                          admits, “I had quite a delusional
                                                                          childhood.  I come from a very blue
                                                                          collar environment.  I was
                                                                          perpetually bored as a kid -- the
culture I was exposed to came from
the three channels provided by our
television antenna.  I developed a rich
fantasy life.”  Part of that vivid,
childhood fantasy included a fanciful
idolization of screen actress Brooke
Shields, who in Ruiz’s youth was
achieving her notoriety as the star of
the film
The Blue Lagoon.  “She was my
pal in my fantasies.  She’d come over
to my house and we’d talk shit.”  When
the opportunity finally came to work
with Shields, “I orchestrated it so I’d
shoot her here in my house; we were
shooting the breeze -- so it all kinda
came to pass.  I allowed (my imagination) to manifest into the way I express myself

Mike Ruiz dawned on New York when he was merely 17.  “I told my father I was going
camping and came here instead.  I had this desperation to come to New York since the
age of 12.”  He finally motivated himself and made the Big Apple his home in the late 80
‘s.  “I moved to the city with $300 in my pocket and a dream!”  It’s easy and cliché to say
that the rest is history, but in Ruiz case there’s a little bit of truth to that old saying.  What
a photographer does is capture pop-culture moments and freezes them in time -- in
essence, Mike Ruiz is immortalizing his subjects, manipulating them to fit into his gum
ball colored, sugary sweet confection of an imagination and then like Willy Wonka
reveal his latest treat to the mouth watering adulation of his public.  Before long, Ruiz
had made his name in the game, playing to Miami, LA and coming back to NYC.

Since he’s worked with so many celebrities, and has quickly established his own
unique brand of stardom, I asked him about the current cultural obsession with fame.  
Everyone in entertainment gets put on a pedestal.  I don’t know what it
is about human nature that makes us put certain individuals (regardless of their
contributions) on a pedestal”.  Ruiz has himself seen the lines blurred between those
individuals that have proven their talent and worked their way to the top, and others who
have clung onto desperately to their pseudo-celebrity.  “You can have anything you want
-- but I could never understand
that.”  Ruiz prefers to rely on his own sense of self, and
especially depends on his self-actualization to make his contributions both artistically
and to his community.  “Nothing external ever fills a void in you.  You’ve got to do
something for yourself...and once you do, you can have fruitful and happy experiences
in life, and have healthy relationships -- not have
them define you.”

It’s a far cry from the insecure, gay, overweight, blue collar,
culturally-challenged Mike Ruiz growing up in Montreal.  
Now he confidently dishes his own advice to aspiring models on
television, and generously gives of his time to support one of the
nation’s most worthy causes.
                  The Trevor Project is an organization dedicated to preventing
                   suicides among our communities gay, lesbian, bisexual and
                   transgender teens, a demographic that through his television
                   appearances Mike Ruiz has gotten the attention of.  “I get e
                  -mails from gay youth from around the world (including Malaysia
                   and Indonesia) who say they can’t come out because their
                   parents will kill them...and I tell them to hold on.  There’s a big
                   wonderful world out there!”

                  And to the hundreds upon thousands of other gay & lesbian
                   youth across the world, whose time runs out too soon and often
                   sadly by their own devices, if not as the victim of a hate crime,
                   Ruiz can sympathize.  “I didn’t think I had many options -- I didn’t
                   get any pats on the back.  I’ve since been raising awareness for
                   The Trevor Project just because I wish I would have had someone to talk to.  
You can create any reality you want for yourself.”

“I’m very happy to be a role model...it’s a responsibility I take very seriously.”  Through
his appearances as a guest judge on
America’s Top Model, Canada’s Top Model, and
most recently on (the returning for it’s second season in February on LOGO)
Drag Race
Mike Ruiz has shared his professional insight and truly attempted to mold
the next generation of aspiring talent.  It’s a crop, that appears be harvested before
maturation and subjected to the brutal scrutiny of a viciously judgmental viewing
audience, much like in the days of Roman gladiatorial combat.  I ask Mike what makes
his advice, his approach stand-out from his colleagues.  “I really hope these
contestants really take what I say and use it to their benefit.  I was brow beaten for a
long time...there’s a difference when being constructive with someone.  I’m honest with
people, because I would want people to be honest with me -- I’m not mean spirited, or
out to crush anyone’s dreams, but
reality tv is just that...it’s tv.”

Pretty soon Mike Ruiz himself will be the focus of a new pop-reality phenomenon with
the in-the-works reality series; working title:
The Velvet Mafia.  The show to
be produced by Brillstein
Entertainment centers on the
careers of five gay, urban
creatives.  “It’s going to be
about how all of our different
careers converge and
overlap; how the arts and
entertainment are
interconnected,” but it’s also
going to be inspiring
because it’ll be about a
group of professionals
passionate about their field
of expertise.

But I worry, as I often do
about the decline of the
culture as our society
continues on it’s manic
obsession with celebrity
and the fame-seekers
begin to expand into even
our own backyards,
especially when the
perception is that anyone
can be a star.  “It’s the
nature of pop culture --
that’s just how things
today.”  Celebrity was
once a virtue that was
nurtured and earned, and
nowadays it’s practically
handed out to anyone
willing to sell themselves
for their promised 15
minutes.  Ruiz sees it a
little differently, and
actually proliferates the
process, and connects
the message back to
what he says could be
the overall inspiration of
his continued support of
The Trevor Project.  “The
great thing about reality
television, and especially
the competition genre, is
that it gives us a beacon
hope...any kid from any
town in the Midwest can
be thrust into the
limelight and have this
fantastical life that they
could only have once
dreamed about!”  Mike
Ruiz is determined to
provide that extraordinary
amount of light that will provide that beacon.   A shining light paving the way for
disenfranchised youth looking at their own reflection and finding their own
strength and determination on their race to become
America’s Next...Mike

Now that’s something worth tuning into.

Check out Mike Ruiz’s work on-line at
www.mikeruiz.com.  And don’t miss the
upcoming season of RuPaul’s Drag Race on LOGO (Check your local
listings) and watch for the premiere of The Velvet Mafia.

For more on The Trevor Project go to
www.thetrevorproject.org and learn
more.  If you are a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender youth in crisis and need
someone to talk to, contact the helpline at: 866-4-U-TREVOR.

CLICK HERE for more JC Alvarez

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