In his unique portrait project, Stefan Ruiz introduces us to the quirky haircuts, sticky sideburns, and eye-catching style of the fashion-forward “Cholombianos.”
If you’re interested in a documentary approach to portrait photography you’ll surely be fascinated at the projects of Brooklyn-based Stefan Ruiz. If you’re just learning about him now, one of best ways to get acquainted with him and his work is a VICE Picture Perfect episode from 2012, which takes us behind the scenes of him at work documenting the “Cholombianos” of Monterrey, Mexico.
In the first half of the episode, we get a glimpse of Ruiz’s crazy cool studio and his fascinating collection of oddities, which include kitschy portraits and portrait-based items. He also speaks about his own work as a photographer, from his unlikely start in photography, how it has taken him to various places, and how he was able to score projects for ad campaigns, magazines, and celebrity shoots.
In the second half (above), we follow Ruiz to his flight to Monterrey, Mexico, where he was set to photograph the “Cholombianos” — a group of youngsters who have taken on a distinct fashion style inspired by Colombian vallenato and cumbia music. This documentary style of portrait photography, he said, is mostly dependent on people showing up to a shoot. And to kickstart this, he and his assistant first had to bring themselves to their subjects and set up where they were most likely to spot them: the market where they buy clothes, accessories, trinkets, and music.
“I wanted to keep the image clean because they’re interesting enough on their own and I think the background will just distract,” he said on the look he particularly wanted to showcase the Cholombianos. “I wasn’t trying to make some kind of social statement about where they live or about anything like that. It’s more about them and their style.”
Seeing Ruiz work with a Linhof 4×5 camera and loads of peel-apart instant film is in itself fascinating today, especially since the films aren’t as readily available now. The project also provides an eye-opening view into a culture mostly unknown outside its circle, and is a great example of portrait photography as a tool to paint a picture of unique street cultures around the world.
Screenshot image from the video by VICE