Throughout life as a military brat, an artist for record covers, Revlon and L’Oreal, and even as a volunteer at the Kalmar Nyckel, one thing has been constant for Gervasio Ruiz Jr. since his parents put a cheap camera in his hand at the age of 14.
Ruiz, 69, has won multiple photography awards throughout the state of Delaware in the last few years. Most recently, his work has been featured at the Biggs Museum of American Art gallery in Dover and is now on display at the Dover Library as part of the Delaware Community Lens show.
Taking pictures, the Milford resident says, is one way to keep life interesting and it didn’t stop when he and his wife moved to Delaware.
“Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve had a lot more time,” Ruiz said, “I’ve really expanded multifold my involvement in photography.”
As a military brat, Ruiz spent most of his young life moving around, following the assignments of his father who was in the Air Force.
Ruiz was born in his grandmother’s house in Rincon, Puerto Rico, where his father was assigned when he met Gervasio’s mother. Soon after, the family moved to California where he began kindergarten. When his father was stationed in the Philippines, Ruiz completed first and second grade. From that swampish climate, The Ruiz family moved to northern Maine. Finally, Ruiz and his family settled in New York City after his father’s tenth year in the Air Force.
It was in Maine that Ruiz discovered his love of photographing nature and his surroundings.
He was 14 when his parents purchased him his first camera—a $2.99 plastic camera. Then, a Kodak instamatic at age 17 until he saved up enough money to buy his first 35mm camera. Since he was given that first plastic camera, Ruiz has brought a camera with him wherever he goes.
“Since my late teens I’ve been taking pictures like crazy,” Ruiz said. “And so, I was the family photographer, everyone knew that if I was there, so would the camera.”
His work focuses on the small things of life, primarily shooting still frames.
More specifically Ruiz said that he is obsessed with photographing grids, leading the viewer’s eyes, and adhering to the rule of threes.
When he takes a photograph, he tries to frame the shot in such a way that his eyes saw them; he wants the viewer to see everything that compelled him to take the picture in the first place.
“Some photographers start off with the basic photo and manipulate it afterwards,” Ruiz said. “To me it’s if I see something and it attracts me—the neurons in my brain go boop boop boop—I wanna recreate that feeling I had. So, I do whatever it takes to get that photograph.”
Ruiz has embraced the digital medium, shooting on a mirrorless Canon and his iPhone 11 while editing his images using Photoshop and Lightroom.
“Some of the photos that I’ve taken that have won awards have been taken on my phone,” Ruiz said. “The quality of the camera on the phone is just incredible.”
Adapting to technology has always been something that Ruiz has always been willing and ready to do. Ruiz is so welcoming of new technology in fact, that he was one of the first to push for technological upgrades during his 35 years working in the commercial arts.
Ruiz got his first job in design through a friend of his father right after he had dropped out of Hunter College in NYC and right before he was about to sign up for the Air Force. His designed cover art for records, tapes and eight tracks at a small art studio.
Then a coworker told him a recruitment agency upstairs was hiring for Revlon, and he went to work for a makeup company.
Ten years later, he was lured to L’Oreal by a former co-worker to work in the company’s first in-house art department for packaging. The department was brand new, and Ruiz was the employee.
Ruiz constantly pushed for innovation and technology at L’Oreal, where managers were sometimes reluctant to meet his requests. Eventually Ruiz was able to bring the department into the 21st century by bring in computers, email and design software that made his job easier and quicker.
“With computers you do everything,” Ruiz said. “Now you’re wearing every singe hat. You’re the typesetter, you’re the photographer, you’re the embosser and everything else.”
While at L’Oreal, Ruiz to travelled the country for business trips. He was only really needed to set up presentations before and repack everything when it was over. In his spare time, Ruiz took to the streets with this camera. Louisiana and Charleston, South Carolina, were two of his most memorable places to shoot.
After 40 years of the commercial arts industry, Ruiz decided it was time to exit the rat race. He and his wife, Nancy, had been talking about leaving the city, but they made the decision when he came home at 9 p.m. one night after what was supposed to be a half-day of work.
Ruiz decided he’s spent way too many 12-hour workdays dealing with way too many Divas. His life, he said, was eerily close to that depicted in “The Devil Wears Prada.”
“When I saw that movie, I went, Oh my god that’s my life, I’ve never seen a movie that’s so closely showed what it’s like, really,” Ruiz said. “I mean the prima donnas, and you just have to sit there and deal with it. I mean the temper tantrums, throwing things, it was just unbelievable.”
The two were able to downsize in price from their New York City home while doubling the square footage in Milford.
After the couple moved in 2007, Ruiz had a hard time finding a job. Often, he was considered too qualified for the work he was applying for.
As he job hunted, Ruiz began volunteering for the Kalmar Nyckel after taking a rigorous three-week sailing course. Ruiz would work trips on the ship back and forth locally, not wanting to be far from home for too long.
Unfortunately, Ruiz couldn’t take photos of the ship. He said that there were some shots that he wanted to take, such as being put onto a buoy to photograph the vessel in the water. But someone beat him to the shot.
Soon after Ruiz worked for a laundromat in Milford, and through that he met someone looking for an art designer and photographer for the Lewis Auto Mall. The job combined three thigns he loved: cars, cameras and computers.
After a few years Ruiz finally decided to retire, partially because I.G. Burton, bought the Lewis Auto Mall, had its own art department.
Since then, he’s been spending a lot more time with his camera, honing his craft. He worked to be better at using photo editing software.
One big added dimension, though, has been switching his color palette. While he has always loved colors, lately he has been digitally correcting his images to make them black and white to highlight different patterns that he finds interesting.
Ruiz has entered images in local photography contests, frequently winning first, second and third places like in the juried shows at the Biggs Museum, Mispillion Art league and Lewis Children’s Beach House.
He also teaches photography as the Mispillion Art League where he leads “photo safaris” around Milford.
Asked what advice he has for new photographers, Ruiz said that they should learn how to use photographic editing software, but also to forget to try new things.
“If you’re doing it for your own enjoyment, experiment,” he said. “Try different things, don’t be afraid and have the camera or your phone ready.”
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