Mike Ruiz is undoubtedly one of today's best known and hardest working photographers. His surreal, high-impact signature style is instantly recognizable and in high demand. By now, he has shot seemingly everyone in show business; from Kim Kardashian to Betty White to Prince. A former model and actor, Mike is also at ease in front of the camera and is a cast member of The A-List: New York and judge on Canada's Next Top Model. In addition, he also manages to squeeze into his schedule guest-judge appearances on America's Next Top Model and RuPaul's Drag Race.
But however packed his calendar might be Mr. Ruiz is never too busy to give back to his community. He has a strong passion and commitment for charity work and supporting causes which speak to his heart. Most recently, Mike designed and launched a series of t-shirts benefiting The Ali Forney Center, a center which rescues homeless LGBT youth from the streets and places them in safe and supportive environments.
JG: How did you become involved with The Ali Forney Center?
MR: Actually, the partner of one of my fellow castmates from The A-List is a Board member of The Ali Forney Center and brought me to one of its fundraiser's last year. I was riveted by the the story behind Ali Forney, as told in a moving speech by Executive Director, Carl Sicilano. When Carl spoke of how hundreds of homeless gay youth might be potentially thrown back out into the streets, due to cutbacks in State funding, I knew that I had to become an active participant and contribute somehow.
JG: You also have an upcoming book benefiting both GMHC and The Ali Forney Center. How close is the book to completion?
MR: I want to donate proceeds to these two organizations but it hasn't been made official yet. I would say that I have about 50% of the images compiled so far but I am blazing through the process so it should be ready to go by late summer.
JG: Who are you dying to photograph that you haven't already?
MR: I would love to work with Lady Gaga. She's an amazing talent who has a strong sense of social responsibility -- a quality I admire in anyone who taps into it. As a proponent of equality myself, I find that what she has done for the LGBT community is awe-inspiring.
JG: You're surrounded by celebrities on a regular basis. Do you ever get starstruck?
MR: Understanding that celebrity derives from and is a result of some form of accomplishment, it's always gratifying to work with individuals who have made some sort of contribution to society. I'm always in awe of accomplished people but never "starstruck". I find that to be a distraction to getting to know them as individuals. There are certainly people who inspire me but not much distracts or intimidates me these days.
JG: I'm a hopeless Prince freak who's in daily contact with many, many other Prince freaks, so I will have my purple-lovin' butt handed to me on a platter if I do not ask this question: how was it shooting Prince for Ebony and his Welcome 2 America shows?
MR: Working with Prince is always amazing. He has been a creative force in my life since my late teens. So, to now have him acknowledge my own expertise with my own creative process as a photographer is quite mind-blowing and an honor.
JG: What is the best part of being a celebrity who photographs celebrities?
MR: With my celebrity comes a level of trust, where other celebrities are comfortable in relinquishing a very vulnerable part of them in front of the camera. These are ideal circumstances to work in because a certain flow happens that optimizes creativity, which would otherwise be impossible.
JG: How did your photographic style come about?
MR: My aesthetic is derived from my point of view which is one of optimism and hope. The camera became a conduit for my need to create a more beautiful world around me.
JG: Have you ever had a shoot where everything just went wrong? How did you pull it together in the end?
MR: I tend to roll with the punches so if things don't go exactly as planned, I always perceive it as the universe making things the way they should be. I am always at the top of my game when presented with change and challenge.
JG: When not shooting in the studio, what is your ideal location?
MR: I love shooting in really extreme natural environments such as the huge boulders in Joshua Tree, CA or El Mirage dry lake bed.
JG: What other photographers' works blow your mind?
JG: Of what or whom was the last picture you took?
MR: I did an amazing fashion-forward shoot with Iman yesterday. She is a legend for a reason. Something happens to her when there is a camera present and it's pretty spellbinding to watch.
JG: Which is toughest to judge, Top Model or Drag Race?
MR: It's tough to judge Top Model because what we are asked to pick a girl who fits a certain standard, where as Drag Race celebrates everyone's marked differences.
JG: Since you've been a judge on Drag Race I will ask you what I ask of everyone involved with the show. Which is most important, Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve or Talent?
MR: Charisma for sure. Everything else trickles down from that.
JG: We know you like to take pictures. What are some of your other favorite things to do?
MR: I recently discovered that I really like designing. I'm expanding my t-shirt line to include a few other items and I've been very hands on with the subtle nuances of the design process. It's been very gratifying.
All images courtesy of Mike Ruiz
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