Mike Ruiz is a photographer, model and TV personality known for his work on “America’s Next Top Model,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and magazine spreads. Ruiz has been named Grand Marshal of the 2010 Albuquerque Pride Parade.
Have you been to Albuquerque before?
As a matter of fact, I have. My brother and my dad live there. My dad’s actually marching in the parade with me.
Are you excited to be the Grand Marshal of our Pride?
Are you kidding? Yeah! I’m not exactly sure what it entails, I guess it’s kind of an honorary thing, but I get to head up the parade and have other responsibilities over the weekend. We’re doing a bunch of fundraising stuff. It’s extended beyond just the parade. It’s a whole action-packed weekend.
One of the fundraisers includes you taking photographs of people.
I’m known these days for my celebrity transformations, for taking a celebrity and making them over in a way that’s jarring for the general public. I hope this inspires people to do the same and come out of their comfort zone and dress up to get some slick, stylized portraits of themselves.
Your photographs are often commercial shots—do you do any other kind of photography?
I don’t really think of it as commercial art or fine art. My work is pop art. These days people come to me to get my voice and my setting. I’m doing this out of my hopefulness and my need to overcome adversity. It all started as a form of escapism, but it’s morphed into a hopeful, aspirational thing. There’s a lot of me in those images.
I hope this inspires people to do the same and come out of their comfort zone and dress up to get some slick, stylized portraits of themselves.
You took photographs of Dennis Hopper, who lived and worked in New Mexico for a long time. What was it like to shoot him?
He was very sedate/sedated, I don’t know. He was very calm and accommodating. He didn’t come off as unstable at all. I don’t know what that was a byproduct of. I was very nervous. I mean, first, he’s an icon, and, of course, I heard stories that he could go off at any moment. He was very gentle and shattered any preconception I had of him. It was pretty cool.
He’s got such a great face, too.
He has a lot of character in that face and a lot of history. I still love those portraits I did of him; they just speak volumes of his life. All the lines he has in his face and all the character—I love shooting people like that, who have their life mapped on their face.
You’ve been on a bunch of reality shows. How on earth did you get into that world?
In 2005 I did an episode of “America’s Next Top Model.” I’d been working with Tyra for years, since she was a teenager, shooting her, and she was doing that show; and from that RuPaul had me on “Drag Race.” I’m doing a show this summer in New York called “The A List: New York” about a bunch of upwardly mobile gay guys in New York City. This is all kind of a creative extension for me.
How has the entertainment industry’s perceptions of gay and lesbian characters changed in the last few years?
Logo [television network] is kind of essential to the community. I respect their approach because it’s not in your face. When “Queer as Folk” came out on Showtime, they were really shoving it down people’s throats. It was accurate on a lot of levels, but it alienated a lot of people as well. It didn’t represent a broad spectrum of our community as well as Logo is doing now.
You’ve gone from modeling to photography to TV.
It’s all stuff that was brewing in me, and it took me a while to actually tap into my real creative voice. As a result of searching for that well of creativity, I’ve done a bunch of different stuff. I’m very fortunate. It’s afforded me a way of living that includes giving back. That’s the biggest thing about being the Grand Marshal, is raising awareness. I do a lot of that these days, and it’s really important to me.
Being the Grand Marshal is a role model position—not just for young people but for everyone who is trying to live out and proud.
It’s about living by example, and hopefully that will inspire people who struggle with coming out issues or issues with their sexuality. You don’t have to do it and compromise your dignity or your humanity. You can enjoy your life and have a great time. I’ve had more fun than a person should in their life and, you know, I’ve been out the whole time and true to myself. I’ve suffered a little for it, but I just spin it positively, and anyone can do that. Life presents challenges no matter what your sexuality, so I want to tell youth: You can do anything you want, you should never be hindered by anything.