Stefan Ruiz's images in "The Factory of Dreams" featuring… (Stephan Ruiz )
Soap operas may be nearly dead in the United States, but telenovelas remain a booming industry in Mexico and throughout Latin America. "The Factory of Dreams" by photographer Stefan Ruiz goes behind the scenes at Televisa, the world's largest producer of telenovelas.
From 2003 to '11, Ruiz was granted access to the actors and sets at Televisa's Mexico City studio and at the Centro de Educación Artística, Televisa's soap opera acting school, where future stars are groomed. The 90 images in "Factory of Dreams" provide an intimate look at the colorful characters who inhabit this world.
The idea for the project began while Ruiz was creative director for Colors magazine at Benetton's Fabrica in Italy, focusing on the Centro de Educación Artistica as part of an international schools issue. It evolved to an exploration of telenovelas as a whole, examining issues of race, class and beauty through this artistic outlet that represents all levels of Latin American society.
Ruiz wanted to take documentary portraits in the painterly style of the actors in character, blurring lines between fiction and reality. His photos bear similarities to the early works of Katy Grannan and Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra. His images manage to capture the campiness and glamour at the heart of the dramas.
"The dreams embodied in telenovelas were interesting to me because they are similar to an immigrant's dreams," Ruiz writes in his book. 'Working hard, being honorable and with a bit of luck you can find love, wealth and happiness"
Although born in San Francisco, Ruiz's family lived the American dream. His father's family crossed the border from Mexico and found work as farm laborers and maids. His father eventually graduated from college and became a lawyer.
"The shows are Cinderella stories, formulaic plots for people trying to move up," said the New York City-based Ruiz of the lower middle class audience.
Unlike traditional American soaps, the majority of telenovelas are shown in prime time and offer a closed format, promising a usually happy ending even if a typical telenovela takes more than 100 episodes to conclude.
References to the overly dramatic shows' influence have seeped into American pop culture. "Modern Family" spoofed the genre in a hilarious send-up in its season finale last spring. The hit ABC sitcom "Ugly Betty" was adapted from the Colombian drama, "Yo Soy Betty, la Fea."
Fans may recognize the sultry stare of heartthrob William Levy as Alejandro Lombardo on "Sortilegio" ("Love Spell") from last season of "Dancing With the Stars." Other Televisa alumni who have successfully transitioned to American films include Salma Hayek, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna (all honed their acting skills on "The Rich Also Cry").
Televisa Studios was recently embroiled in a soap-like scandal of its own during the recent Mexico presidential election when it was accused of taking money for favorable TV coverage of President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto. (It denied the charges.) The former governor of the state of Mexico lost his first wife unexpectedly in 2007 and is now married to Televisa soap star Angélica Rivera.
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