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Mike Ruiz is a very busy guy. From model to photographer to director to television personality, Ruiz has led a life in which he has been absolutely unafraid to embrace every opportunity that has been given to him, and his creative energies know no bounds. He began as a model and actor himself, working as talent for more than a decade before he stepped to the other side of the camera. As a director, Ruiz has helmed music videos for a number of dance luminaries like Vanessa Williams, Kristine W, Jody Watley, Traci Lords and X Factor UK judge Kelly Rowland. He works often with noted drag queen and television personality RuPaul, as well, and in 2007, he also directed a deliberately campy movie for RuPaul called Starrbooty, with a possible sequel slated for the future.
Though he says that he now prefers to stay behind the scenes, he recently starred in two seasons of The A-List: New York, a reality series on the LGBT-centered cable network Logo, which followed the lives of gay and bisexual men who were living in New York. He was on the panel of 2009 judges for Canada’s Next Top Model, and no stranger to reality television, he also has guest-starred on a number of episodes of America’s Next Top Model, as well as numerous episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List. Although he doesn’t like to be labeled as just a photographer, or just a director, he admits that people seem to need to, in order to wrap their heads around everything that he does.
"I don’t know if it’s that I have so much to say that one medium started to not seem like enough," Ruiz laughs in humble amusement at his own fortune. "I started to venture into other mediums to try another form of expression, and I’m trying my hands at different things. It’s all about the experience for me. I don’t want to end up on my deathbed with a head full of regrets, so I’m just going for everything, whether I’m qualified at it or not!"
As a photographer, he has celebrities flocking to his high-impact, high-gloss collection of portraiture, beauty shots and editorial work. His fine pop sensibilities and his deft touch with the larger-than-life personalities that he works with have culminated in a body of work that’s an almost shameless blend of tongue-in-cheek humor, high-key glitz and sci-fi surrealism. And, most importantly, his shots are flawless, a quality that has attracted big names like the late Dennis Hopper, Sofia Vergara, Paris Hilton, Christian Bale, Lindsay Lohan and even the girls of Jersey Shore, among many, many others. And add a roster of commercial clients such as Sean John, MAC Cosmetics, Reebok, Vanity Fair, Flaunt, Interview and a variety of other impressive companies and publications, which include more than 60 magazine covers. Looking at his extremely detailed work, you’d think that he had spent many years learning the digital darkroom, but after getting to know him, it’s no surprise whatsoever to find out that Ruiz is completely self-taught. One of his greatest strengths as an artist is that he learns by doing, and he has done a lot.
An homage to Pierre et Gilles.
"I certainly bucked every route, every tradition. I never even studied photography," he explains about his circuitous path to becoming a professional photographer at 28. "The universal thing is to identify how passionate you are about what you’re doing, and if you still feel compelled to do it every single day, then you know that it’s something that you have to do. Once you identify that, you have to be consistent with it. You can’t put in just a little bit of effort and expect all the rewards. To this day, I try to prevent myself from becoming complacent, by thinking outside of the box, by creating new ideas and by trying to be different."
Ruiz’s style is largely influenced by photographers like Ruven Afanador, with whom he worked as a model, and Pierre et Gilles (Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard), who he says "created that perfection, that perfect alternate reality." He notes that his key look is due to a mastery of lighting, his own unique style that brings clients to him "because even without retouching, I’m able to make them look the way that they want to look." He also considers one of his hallmarks to be the way in which he reinvents his subjects, a difficult thing to do when so many of his famous friends and clients have been photographed ad nauseum. Calling them "transformations," he’ll toy playfully with context—adult film star Jenna Jameson in formal evening wear, noted thespian Sir Ian McKellen with a parrot perched on his shoulder, classic beauty Kim Kardashian as a short-haired cyber-vamp.