The Journey to Capturing 500 Portraits of Women Around the World
January 11, 2018
PUSHKAR, INDIA. Noroc was happy to see a number of women in uniform all over the world.
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. Mihaela Noroc photographed this young woman in her wedding outfit.
ULAANBAATAR, MONGOLIA. This young woman is wearing a deel, a traditional outfit commonly seen in Mongolia.
NAMPAN, MYANMAR. For many people around the world, this is what shopping looks like. They don’t have their own cars, big homes or bank accounts, but most of them are great examples of dignity, strength, generosity and honesty, Noroc says.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO. Captain Berenice Torres is a helicopter pilot for the Mexican Federal Police. Also a mother, she is part of a special forces unit. When she talks about her work, Noroc says, “the passion in her eyes is impressive.”
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 there.
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,” Noroc says.
KATHMANDU, NEPAL. This woman was walking with her son when Noroc stopped them. “She didn’t speak English, but he did,” Noroc says, “so I told him I wanted to photograph his mother. And he asked me why. ‘Because she’s beautiful,’ I said. He proudly smiled and looked at his mother. ‘Yes, she is.’”
KOROLYOV, RUSSIA. Nastya takes passport photos in this little shop, but her dream is to take landscape photos around the world. She’s made the first step, having begun to study photography.
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA. Noroc met Samira in her best friend’s coffee shop. She is Muslim and her friend is Christian. “While visiting this stunning country, I saw many beautiful friendships that go beyond religion,” Noroc says, “but there were also terrible conflicts, rooted in differences of ethnicity. Samira’s serene look gives me hope that kind-hearted people like her will make this world a better place.”
WEST JERUSALEM, ISRAEL. When Noroc saw this young woman walking down the street, it was as if she had been transported through time, she thought to herself. “Rikki loves to wear vintage clothes and is very creative,” Noroc says. “She was born in Russia to a Jewish family and decided to move to Jerusalem.”
NAPLES, ITALY. Serena makes these little horns, “cornicelli,” which are ancient charms popular in Naples and parts of southern Italy.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY. “During my travels, I met so many stunning women who told me they don’t feel beautiful at all,” Noroc explains. “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 moved from Cyprus to Turkey, worked hard and fulfilled her dream of becoming a theater actress. While she loves playing different roles on stage, in real life, she adores being herself, natural and free.”
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND. Noroc shot this comparative literature student working toward a Ph.D in philosophy.
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA. “Rarely have I seen such a concentration of uniforms,” Noroc observes. “They are everywhere in this society. This woman was a guide at a military museum.”
The Atlas of Beauty
By Mihaela Noroc
Ten Speed Press
Mihaela Noroc was a hobbyist photographer back when she was working at a TV station in her native Romania. Whenever she had the opportunity to block out a few weeks here or there, she traveled the world. In 2013, she flew to Ethiopia for two weeks. Enchanted by the differences in the country’s religious sects and cultures, most immediately visible by traditional dress—from partially nude tribal women in one region to the Muslim women wearing burkas in another—Noroc was amazed that such diversity could coexist in one country. What about in the world? she wondered.
That year, Noroc, 27 years old at the time, decided to embark on a mission to photograph beauty around the globe, taking portraits of women of all kinds and asking each for their story. This past fall, she shared them in The Atlas of Beauty: Women of the World in 500 Portraits, with the aim to illustrate what she felt back in Ethiopia: that diversity shouldn’t be a catalyst for conflict but a treasure to marvel.
You mentioned in the introduction to your book that this project has helped you discover yourself. In what way?
Mihaela Noroc: I think I’m much more confident as a woman. I’m photographing women because I’m a woman. It’s easier for me to connect with them and there’s instantly going to be more trust. It’s difficult for a man to approach women on the street and photograph them. And also for me to approach and photograph men is very different—I’m not interested in that. So photographing women is probably going to be something that I’ll do all my life. I hope so. It’s such a never-ending, diverse subject that I want to follow.
How did you find your portrait subjects?
MN: I have social media followers from all over the world, so before I go to one country, I will post a message on my Facebook account asking locals if they have any information or if they know of places I should go to. I usually go in really crowded areas. I also have recommendations from people who know somebody I should photograph. The Mexican police wrote and told me to photograph these female firefighters there, so I did. When I find somebody that I have instant chemistry with, I go and approach them. The answer is not always yes, you’ll have a lot of no’s, too. It depends a lot on the culture.
What was your strategy in approaching people?
MN: Just talking with them, that’s the easiest way. Also, being honest and explaining exactly what’s going on and taking the time to get to know each other.
At what point did you decide to make the work into a book?
MN: It came to mind after two years or so. When you look at pictures on the Internet, it’s a different experience than when you have them in a book. And it’s easier to tell stories with the juxtaposition of pictures. You see pictures that were taken from different corners of the world, but when you see them together in a book, they speak to you in a certain way. So I think the book is a better medium to express myself and the project.
What did you learn in putting the book together?
MN: In this book, my intent is to allow women to feel comfortable showing themselves as respectful and powerful women. I think this is a very good tool for education, and this is one of the reasons why I think I will continue the project. People need more images like these. I mean, people are leaning more and more toward a natural way of portraying women, which I think is very good and healthy for our mentality. And now, I know exactly how to make a second book, to make it more powerful and better for educating our peers.
MN: I need more diversity. I need more countries, there are so many places that I want to go. I started this project when I was 27 years old and now I’m 32. Imagine how much in those four or five years you grow up as a person. My interests then are different from my interests today, so I think going forward, the project is going to have more depth. I didn’t have the chance to go as much as I wanted to in the African continent. I just have a few Ethiopian and Egyptian women. But I didn’t go there much because it’s difficult to travel there and it’s kind of expensive. But next time, I’m really aiming for Africa. I’ve been dreaming of some places there, like this festival in Niger in September, but it’s a very dangerous area because of Islamist groups. I don’t have organizations to give me security.
You travel alone?
MN: Sometimes I travel with my husband, sometimes I’m by myself—it depends on the situation. But when I go and work, I have to be alone because the women there are going to be very suspicious otherwise. Like, “Who’s that guy?” So I have to be alone. Also, I’m never sure how much time I’m going to spend with the women I photograph. Sometimes it’s going to take a few seconds because she’s not going to want to be part of my project and that’s it, but sometimes she wants to be part of my project and I try to spend as much time with her as possible. Sometimes I’m invited in their home. I might stay a few minutes, I might stay five hours. So it’s difficult to stay with me.
It’s sort of bewildering to think of all the stories you have in your head now after talking to all of these women.
MN: I have a lot of stories, but the problem is because I’m not a native English speaker, it’s more difficult for me to express myself with words and writing. I’m very good with speaking in instances like this with you, just opening up to one person, but it’s more difficult to write things down, which is why my book doesn’t have so many words. I will try to improve that for my next book.
IN THE GEAR BAG
Cameras: Canon 5D Mark II and III
Lenses: 27-70mm f/2.8, 40mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.2
1. Be prepared for hard work. I think about this project every day. For the last four years, there’s nothing I’m more focused on in my life, and that’s been essential to producing the work.
2. Don’t give up. I had so many times when I wanted to give up because it was so difficult. You have to have a positive attitude to continue. People are not always going to get your message, things can sometimes go wrong, so trust your instincts and just keep going.