Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc has spent the past four years traveling around the world with a backpack and a camera, searching for beauty in unexpected places. She has collected striking photographs of women from over 55 countries, which she documents on her Instagram account, and has now released a book titled The Atlas of Beauty. Noroc’s photos are a testament to the many definitions and perceptions of beauty, and give a brief insight into women’s lives all over the globe.
Her project started when she escaped from an unfulfilling job in Bucharest to Ethiopia on a backpacking trip. Almost immediately, she was struck by the women she saw in the streets of Addis Ababa, and the idea for The Atlas of Beauty began to form. She had always wanted to be a photographer, but had given up on her dream in favour of a more practical career in television. Soon after that trip, she quit her job and embarked on an adventure that has taken her further than she could have imagined, earning the trust of hundreds of woman who allowed her, often through pantomime due to a language barrier, to take their photo.
Noroc’s definition of beauty is much more complex than the mainstream portrayal of celebrities and supermodels. “When I say beauty,” she writes, “I mean a different aspect of beauty than we often see today, which is usually about sexual attractiveness, in the service of selling something… I want to show the serene, kind, calm facet of beauty: The mouth is closed, the eyes are connecting, not seducing, and the woman is wearing what makes her comfortable, even proud, not exposed and vulnerable.”
AMAZON RAINFOREST, ECUADOR
"More and more tribes of Amazonia are starting to adopt modern clothes for everyday life. But they are still keeping their traditional clothes for important events. I photographed this young woman in her wedding outfit."
WAKHAN CORRIDOR, AFGHANISTAN
"She was working in the fields in one of the most remote places in the world. The people and the natural surroundings are beautiful, but life is so harsh. The violent conflicts that have plagued Afghanistan for the past forty years never reached her village but were never far away, and made it impossible for her to improve her life."
"I met this lovely lady at a local market."
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. When she talks about her work, the passion in her eyes is impressive."
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."
"Many women of the world carry great burdens every day, either literally or figuratively. And they do it with so much tenderness and positivity."
"She's wearing a deel, which is a traditional outfit commonly seen in Mongolia."
"This photo was taken just before her performance in a traditional dance."
"In 2005, Magda was a passenger in a terrible car accident. Something I noticed traveling the world is how, in so many places, people in wheelchairs are often hidden away from the public, condemned to a life of isolation. Sometimes it is because getting outside is too difficult, due to a lack of accessible housing.
Magda wants to change the way people in wheelchairs are treated, at least in her country, through some amazing initiatives. She regularly organizes fashion shows in which the models are ordinary women who use wheelchairs. These events show that a disability does not mean a woman is not talented, capable, and beautiful. She has given confidence to many women who, since working with her, have started families and became mothers. Magda herself is the mother of a six-year-old daughter. I feel privileged when I meet people like her. Through their passion, strength, and generosity, they bring so much joy and support to others."
The Atlas of Beauty is available here.
All photographs and quotations used with permission, (c) 2017 by Mihaela Noroc from The Atlas of Beauty, Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.
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Molly McLaughlin is a travel and culture writer currently based in Mexico City. Her work has appeared in publications including Lonely Planet, Refinery29 and Ms. Magazine. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @mollysgmcl.