KATHMANDU, NEPAL. Sona is celebrating Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, and among the most spectacular gatherings I witnessed in my travels. A time to forgive and to be forgiven, Holi marks the coming of spring, when good triumphs over evil.
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There are many projects that aim to explore concepts of beauty around the world, but perhaps none so dedicated and comprehensive as The Atlas of Beauty. After almost four years of traveling continuously around the world, photographer Mihaela Noroc's portraits of women around the worldare being published in a new 352-page book.
We've been following her work for years, as she moves everywhere from Afganistan to Tibet, shooting portraits of women who embody the unique beauty of their cultures. The book, which will be released on September 26, 2017, features 500 portraits from over 50 countries, with many previously unseen images. It's the fruit of many years of work, with Noroc traveling the world to listen to women's stories, accompanied just by her backpack and camera.
Her stunning images capture women of all ages and sizes, proving that beauty is more than what we see in glossy magazines. “Beauty is in our differences,” Noroc shares, “it's about being yourself, natural, and authentic, not about trends, race, or social status.”
CHICHICASTENANGO, GUATEMALA. Maria is a vegetable vendor in the market of her small town. She became shy as soon as she saw the camera.
And while Noroc acknowledges that women are under immense pressure to conform to beauty standards, she hopes her book can give them another perspective on what it means to be beautiful. “While traveling, I noticed that there’s a lot of pressure on women to look and behave in a certain way. In some environments, it is the pressure to look attractive. In others, on the contrary, it is the pressure to look modest. But every woman should be free to explore her own beauty without feeling any pressure from marketing campaigns, trends, or social norms.”
“Real beauty comes from inside, inspiring serenity and humanity, so if our outsides are natural and authentic, our insides will be more visible. We need to learn to be ourselves, but to do that we also have to learn to let other people be themselves.”
During her travels, Noroc has worked her way through typically touristed countries, but has also ventured to many that few outsiders see—like North Korea and Iran. Using her camera to break the isolation these countries typically live in—whether due to war or politics—she completes a bigger picture of humanity around the world.
TEHRAN, IRAN. Her name is Mahsa, which means “like a moon” in Persian. When she was an adolescent, her father insisted that she study to become a doctor, but Mahsa was more interested in the arts and she chose to become a graphic designer. She is proud that from the time she turned eighteen, she has been financially independent, and soon plans to open her own firm.
At times, these isolated areas even defy expectations. For instance, in Iran, Noroc found herself to be welcomed warmly as a Westerner. The women there loved to be photographed, with Noroc stating that it was one of the few countries outside the Western world where she was rarely refused a photograph.
As Noroc continues The Atlas of Beauty, hoping to travel to more areas of the world and spend more time with locals, she hopes her book can be a beacon of hope. “I hope this book will get into many homes around the world, convincing more people that diversity is a treasure and not a trigger for conflicts and hate. We are very different but at the same time we are all part of the same family.”
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND. : I met Thorunn in her hometown on a freezing day. But her warm personality made me forget the cold. A popular singer in Iceland, she was also a new mom to a baby girl, whom she wants to grow up happy and confident. So Thorunn started an online community called “Good Sister,” which drew a third of the women in her country to join in support of one another by sharing their stories and giving encouragement.
NEW YORK, USA. Abby and Angela are sisters with an Ethiopian mother and a Nigerian father. Both parents worked for the United Nations so the sisters grew up in six different countries, on three different continents. This gave them a broad perspective and allowed them to see where need was the greatest. After graduation, they both plan to move to Africa and put their knowledge in the service of that amazing continent.
Photographer Mihaela Noroc started the project in 2013, inspired by a trip to Ethiopia.
OMO VALLEY, ETHIOPIA. With the high temperatures here, nudity is not unusual. Her tribe is called the Daasanach and they have lived in isolation for generations.
DELPHI, GREECE. On a normal day, Eleni works in her family’s restaurant. But once a year, she dresses like this for Easter. It’s fascinating to see that, despite the fact that Greece is a modern country, it preserves many of its ancient traditions.
HAVANA, CUBA. An actress? A model? No, she wishes only to finish her studies and become a nurse.
PARIS, FRANCE. I met Imane at an art exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, her favorite place to dream, before she had to leave for a job interview. She is studying art at a university and also works in three restaurants and does some babysitting to support herself. But she wants to someday have an art gallery, one that will bring together artists from different cultures. She has African and European roots and loves the diversity of the world.
She has traveled to over 50 countries, spending time with each woman to get her story.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY. During my travels, I’ve met so many stunning women who told me they don’t feel beautiful at all. Influenced by the way the media depicts beauty, many people feel pressured to follow a certain standard of beauty. But that’s not the case with Pinar. She is Turkish Cypriot and has long dreamed of becoming a theatre actress. So, she moved from Cyprus to Turkey, worked hard and fulfilled her dream. While she loves playing different roles on stage, in real life, she adores being herself, natural and free. In the end, beauty is about being yourself, something people like Pinar prove to be true.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO. Captain Berenice Torres is a helicopter pilot for the Mexican Federal Police. This brave woman, who is also a mother, is part of a special forces unit to fight drug cartels, or to rescue people from natural disasters.
RAMALLAH, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES. Amal—her name means “hope” in Arabic—is Palestinian, but has lived in Saudi Arabia from age five, when her family moved there. “One year ago, I came back to Palestine for my studies. I really feel at home here. I feel I can become the woman I want to be.”
“I want to honor the wonderful women of our world. To show that their beauty has no bounds, so acceptance, love, and compassion shouldn’t either.”
NAMPAN, MYANMAR. For many people around the world, this is what shopping looks like. They don’t have their own cars, or big homes, or bank accounts. But most of them are great examples of dignity, strength, generosity, and honesty. If more of those who have fortunes and power would learn from these wonderful people, we would live in a much better world.
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA. Rarely have I seen such a concentration of uniforms; they are everywhere in this society. This woman was a guide at a military museum.
“In the end, beauty is in our differences, it’s about being yourself, natural and authentic, not about trends, race, or social status.”
WEST JERUSALEM, ISRAEL. When I saw her walking on the street, I briefly thought that we had gone back in time. Rikki loves to wear vintage clothes and is very creative. She was born in Russia to a Jewish family and decided to move to Jerusalem.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA. Awhile ago, Jade took out a loan, bought a professional camera, and started to learn photography. She dreams of traveling and taking photos all over the world. I had the same dream—and it came true.
MILAN, ITALY. Caterina began dancing when she was three years old. Her mother, Barbara, was supportive, but knew that there were few opportunities to study ballet in their small town so, although her husband and son stayed behind, she moved with Caterina to Milan, where her daughter could fulfill her dream and attend one of the most esteemed schools in the world. Art requires huge sacrifices, but imagine how Barbara feels today seeing Caterina dancing on the celebrated stage of La Scala.
All images reprinted with permission from “Atlas of Beauty” by Mihaela Noroc, copyright (c) 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photographs (c) 2017 by Mihaela Noroc.