The images in People are accompanied by frank and often witty commentary from Ruiz, revealing the stories behind them. Typically, the most initially interesting are his shots of the famous: Brian Wilson “seemed completely out of his mind” to Ruiz, while Liza Minelli “had just lost a lot of weight and was very excited”.
More distressing are his images of refugees at a camp in Tanzania, on the border with Burundi and Rwanda. Despite Ruiz’s largely formal style of photographing his sitters in the centre of the image, looking starkly into the camera lens, the images are nonetheless inevitably harrowing. His comments here are stark: “Knowing what had happened in Rwanda, we wondered if we were photographing only victims of the genocide or some who were responsible for it. It was an ambiguous situation because everyone at the camp seemed like a victim. In the camp, we heard stories about some of the worst imaginable things people do to each other.”
These images were shot in 2000 for Colors magazine, where Ruiz went on to be creative director from 2002-04. While the book reflects the travels Ruiz has taken for work, not all the images here feature exotic locations. For his first issue in charge of Colors, Ruiz decided to focus on Birmingham. The edition of the mag addressed the complex racial and immigration problems in the city, and included here are portraits of two homeless teenagers who have been thrown out of home for having an inter-racial relationship.
Most poignant however, are Ruiz’s photographs of his own family. Unlike typical family shots, usually taken in moments of happiness or celebration, Ruiz unflinchingly captures his relatives at difficult times and records their travails in the commentary. The monograph is book-ended by images of his grandfather, the first showing him frail and blinded by glaucoma, the last a portrait of him in his coffin. As with much of his work, the subject matter here may be dark and slightly uncomfortable but Ruiz is never voyeuristic, and instead the closing photograph offers a respectful and honest final goodbye.