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"I tend to identify something that I know they’ll respond well to," says Ruiz, "and i
s actually something that exists inside of them that I bring to the surface. I like to study them, break them down and identify something in them that they may or may not realize exists, and then bring it to the surface via hair and makeup, styling, environment and lighting. A lot of times, it’s jarring, but it kind of makes sense, as well. On the surface level, it’s very colorful and poppy, very pop art. But it’s so much more than that—the color, the vibrancy, the perfection of it all. It’s derivative of my need to create a more hopeful environment around me and to create a more hopeful world for others."
Born in Montreal in 1964 and raised in Québec, Ruiz is half Spanish and openly gay, a tough mix in the fairly intolerant, lower-income community he grew up in. He’s characteristically positive about the experience, though, thanking his upbringing for giving him a fantastical ability to escape into a world much like the one that he now creates with his camera. As a child, he’d often find himself in intensely realistic daydreams, elaborate worlds that he’d create for himself in which everything was full of beauty and color, and everyone there had perfect hair and was always "dressed to the nines." He says these daydreams were so realistic that he’d often be shocked to find that they weren’t actually real, and even at a young age, he realized that if he didn’t act on them, eventually his fantasies would shrivel up and die.
"It’s just creative visualization," he says. "I used to imagine myself in these different scenarios, and now they have all manifested. When I got that first camera as a gift, I realized that was the conduit for me to create that world myself."
Ruiz is also a businessman and a noted philanthropist in the LGBT community. He was a founding partner in the Los Angeles landmark studio, Miauhaus, which was open for 14 years until closing just recently. Ruiz says that he and his partners decided it was a better business decision to close up shop when faced with the reality that in order to stay competitive in today’s web-based market, they would need to upgrade to a much more expensive, soundproof space. "We didn’t go under," he says. "We just decided to end it."
Ruiz isn’t afraid to get wild with his high-impact beauty shots.
Ruiz is also a motivational speaker on gay issues and a tremendous supporter of a variety of organizations like GLAAD, Live Out Loud, The Trevor Project, Housing Works, the It Gets Better Project, Project Angel Food and the Men’s Sexual Health Project at the Bellevue Hospital Center and NYU School of Medicine. Two organizations on which he has focused his energies this past year are GMHC, a leading provider of HIV and AIDS prevention, care and advocacy, and the Ali Forney Center, a homeless shelter for LGBT youth based in New York City.
Because of his charity and his talent, a brief look at his Facebook page shows it full of positive comments from his fans and members of the LGBT community, many thanking him for everything he does as a photographer and many others thanking him simply for being who he is. He says that he’s flattered by all the feedback, and to him the most important thing is to inspire people to bring a positive energy and hopefulness to the world. "I work with a lot of philanthropic organizations that help kids," he says. "Everything that I do creatively has a message, and that message transcends photography for me, and now extends into trying to inspire kids into following their dreams, helping them to realize that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and light at the end of the tunnel."
Adds Ruiz, "The long and the short of it is to be consistent and to be proud of what you do. You can’t let people derail you. You can’t get discouraged. If you’re proud of what you’re doing and you love what you do, and you’re consistent at it, and you’re willing to put in the time, then nothing and nobody should be able to derail you for that. I certainly had many, many, many naysayers along the way, telling me that I couldn’t do pretty much every single thing that I’ve done, so that’s the most important thing: to believe in yourself."
Multitalented celebrity and fashion photographer Mike Ruiz is based in New York. See more of his work at www.mikeruiz.com.