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Interview: Mihaela Noroc on photographing women around the world

(Image credit: Mihaela Noroc)

Since 2013, Mihaela Noroc has traveled the world with her backpack and camera, photographing everyday women in a natural and serene way.

Her project, The Atlas of Beauty, has just become a unique book featuring 500 of her portraits from more than 50 countries, accompanied by stories that capture a glimpse into the daily experience of women.

Mihaela's goal is to showcase that beauty has no bounds, and that the diversity of our world is a treasure, not a reason for conflicts. So far, she has captured more than two thousand women in every corner of the world. 

 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. 

 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. 

(Image credit: Mihaela Noroc)

How did you come up with the idea of the project?

In 2013, a trip to Ethiopia changed my perspective. In that moment of my life, I was working in other fields, just to make a living, and photography was a hobby.

Right away, I was fascinated by the women I saw during that vacation. Some were living in tribes, where nudity was normal. 

Others were part of conservative communities, covering their heads. And still others, in the big cities, were embracing modern life. 

Most of them were struggling and working hard, sometimes facing discrimination as women. But in these harsh environments, they were shining like stars—with dignity, strength, and beauty.

If there’s so much diversity and so many stories in just one country, I surmised, what about the rest of the world? 

I realised that the wonderful women of our planet deserve much more attention, and that true beauty is usually unnoticed. 

In that moment, I started to dream, and found the strength to break from my comfort zone, quit my job, and start this project. 

 PARIS, FRANCE. I met Imane at an art exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, her favourite 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.

 PARIS, FRANCE. I met Imane at an art exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, her favourite 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.

What is “beauty” for you?

For me, “beauty” is “diversity.” It is much more than what we often see today in mass media. If you put the words “beautiful woman” into Google, you’ll mostly see very similar images of seductive women. 

But on the streets of the world, beauty has many more facets. We just have to open our eyes and see it. 

In the end, beauty is in our differences, it’s about being yourself, natural and authentic, not about trends, race, or social status.

 PUSHKAR, INDIA. While traveling from country to country, I was happy to see that women have joined public forces all over the world.  

 PUSHKAR, INDIA. While traveling from country to country, I was happy to see that women have joined public forces all over the world.  

Why do you photograph only women?

 When I started in photography, sixteen years ago, my first subjects, actually, were my mother and my sister.

Over the years I tried different types of photography, I had my time of experimenting, but in the end I realised that as an artist I have to focus on a niche, to explore it as much as possible, to understand it, to develop my skills around it. 

And this niche for me was photographing women, because this was the thing that made me curious, that, indirectly, made me discover myself, as a woman. 

There’s so much pressure on women to look a certain way, everywhere in the world, and there’s also so much discrimination against them, and I realised that an honest project about women of the world, about their struggles and dreams, is really necessary today. 

 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.

 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.

 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.

 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.

What is your favourite portrait from the book? What is the story behind it?

All the portraits are very special to me, so I can’t name one as being my favourite. But I will tell the story of the portrait from the cover of my book. 

I was walking around the Ganga river, in Varanasi, India, a holy place of Hinduism, where thousands of pilgrims come every day, and I saw a young pilgrim preparing to make an offering.

Her serene expression seemed to be from another world, and the morning light was great. I was so fascinated by this magic moment that I entered deep into the river and I even forgot that my phone was in my pocket.

In such atemporal moments, objects don’t mean anything. I asked her permission to take a photo and after that I let her continue the ritual. 

Usually, I try to spend more time with the women that I photograph. I take a few photos and listen to their stories. But this time, I didn’t have the chance, so we spent only a few seconds together. 

But her eyes, her stance, her outfit, her gesture told me a mystical story that words never could.

(Image credit: Mihaela Noroc)

About the book

The Atlas of Beauty book is a unique collection containing 500 portraits of women from more than 50 countries, accompanied by many interesting stories. Most of the photos from the book have never been seen before.

Throughout the 352 pages, I tried to create suggestive juxtapositions in order to celebrate the diversity of the world and show that beauty is everywhere regardless of money, race, or social status.

After almost four years of continuous work, I dream of seeing this beautifully packaged book in many homes around the world, because this will mean that my message about love, acceptance, and beauty will last.

Find out more about the book here.

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