Friday, September 28, 2007


Actress, Yadhira Carrillo © Stefan Ruiz, from the exhibition The Factory of Dreams, 2005.

Stefan Ruiz was born in San Francisco, California. He studied painting and sculpture at UC Santa Cruz and spent one year studying painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice, Italy. After graduation, he travelled to West Africa to document Islam’s influence on traditional West African art. As a result, Ruiz began specializing in photography and applied his experience as a painter to his photography. On returning to California, he began showing the photos he had taken while in Africa. This resulted in a grant from The Color Purple Scholarship Foundation to pursue his independent work.

Kazakh Portraits

At this time, he also began seven years of teaching art to the inmates from the main line and on death row at San Quentin State Prison. In addition to teaching, he began shooting portraits for magazines. He has now been photographing professionally for 12 years. From December 2002 to January 2004, he was the Creative Director of COLORS Magazine. His work has been shown in the Havana Biennale (Cuba, 2003), PhotoEspa├▒a (Madrid, 2003), and Howard Greenberg Gallery (Tokyo, 2000).

Stefan Ruiz’s first book is about people – about the diversity of the world and the fragility of the human condition. It’s also a portfolio of work by an emerging photographer, with a distinct and original way of seeing the world and of making photographs.

Bodies of work from diverse places and locations – from a Rwandan refugee camp to Birmingham in Britain’s West Midlands, a Cuban asylum to a dance hall in Mexico City – are sequenced into a single essay, linked by Ruiz’s singular aesthetic point of view, his preoccupations with issues of racial and physical identity, his particular identification with people’s vulnerability, and with details of his own autobiography.

Merv Griffin

These are raw and edgy photographs in which people reveal themselves. They are often uplifting, certainly beautiful, yet we often feel we are on the edge of madness. It seems clear that Ruiz identifies with his subjects, even when he displays a trace of irony (for instance in his portraits of participants in the Texan Miss Rodeo contest), yet they are never exploitative. His ability to make pictures that show sincere respect, yet that manage to be so revealing, is a central characteristic of his talents. He has conjured a world that is uniquely his own.

The book deals with several themes, all rooted in his own story. Born in California of Mexican and Italian parents, he is torn between the perspectives of a Mexican underclass and the classical values of old world Europe. A key figure – even though Ruiz doesn’t tell us much about him – is his grandfather Leo. The first photograph in the book (and the earliest photograph included) is a portrait of Leo, and the last is a portrait of him in his coffin.

Stefan Ruiz's pictures reveal the fragility of the "family of man." With photographs of his own family, Mexican soap stars, Cuban mental asylum patients, Texan cowgirls, and Rwandan refugees, among celebrity portraits including Liza Minnelli, James Brown, and Jenna Jameson, this essay is the remarkable first book of a uniquely talented image-maker.

Ruiz chooses to shoot on a large format 5”x4” plate camera, which imposes formality and the discipline of carefully composing each shot. Porfolios of his editorial and commercial work can be found on The Katy Barker Company website below.