The Photographer Delves into the Fantasy World of Mexico’s Telenovelas
Seven years ago, when Stefan Ruiz was creative director of Colors Magazine, he envisioned doing a photo story on that most notorious of daytime diversions: the soap opera. “But not just to make fun,” he says. “Because that's way too easy.” Instead the San Francisco-born Ruiz, who began his career as a photographer in West Africa and now shoots for L'Uomo Vogue, Rolling Stone and The New York Times Magazine, opted for a documentary-style approach. After a visit to Mexico City's Televisa studio in the San Angel neighborhood, he became intrigued by the sensational realm of the telenovela, and began capturing its stars onset playing out an endless cycle of rags-to-riches narratives. Today on NOWNESS we feature work from the last installment of his seven-year project, which headlines the exhibition The Factory of Dreams at the F.L.O.A.T gallery in Brooklyn through December 13. We caught up with the photographer while he was busy hanging his show to talk melodrama and “messed up” storylines.
Where did the fascination with soaps and, ultimately, telenovelas come from?
It's not that I was ever interested in watching them. But they are Mexico's second largest export and they're shown all over the world. There are actors who are huge in Russia, for example, but we wouldn't know them at all. They're celebrities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. And Televisa, the company where I shot a lot of these photographs, is the largest producer of telenovelas.
Do you watch the shows?
[Laughs] I watched them a bit. They're definitely aspirational. A lot of them are Cinderella-type stories where the good and virtuous girl can move up and be a princess.
Who do you think will this work appeal to?
Ideally it's art that works on different levels. If people who watch the soaps see the photos and like them, that's cool. And then if people who look down on soaps, or think they're too cultured to deal with them, like the photos, that's great too. That's the ideal situation––popular and highbrow at the same time.
Have you warmed to the shows over the years?
I don't love all the stories: there’s one where a girl who is “ugly” inherits a ton of money at the end so she'll get a nose job to be beautiful––that's messed up. But I've been going down there for a long time and I've spoken with a lot of the actors. They don't make a ton of money, but they can make a living acting. When Mexico's film industry was non-existent, it was the only way you could make a decent living. Televistas is where Salma Hayek, Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal all started.