A 4-year mission to present a new vision of beauty

Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc spent nearly four years shooting portraits of — and collecting stories about — women from around the world.  The product of her vision — and her travels to 50 countries — can be seen in her book The Atlas Of Beauty.

The project, she says, began as something “very genuine and sincere” that she financed, initially, with her own savings — and by being frugal in her backpacking adventure. She later crowd-funded, including a Facebook campaign in March.

NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navaro spoke with the 31-year-old via phone from Berlin about her photography. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This book is called The Atlas Of Beauty. What is beautiful to you? What kind of beauty were you trying to evoke?

That’s a very long story, actually. I’m going to try to make it short. You know nowadays the word usually has a little bit of a bad meaning in the end. And everything that’s related to beauty is just related to marketing and sales. If you’re going to put into Google, for example, ‘beautiful woman,’ you’re just going to see women with parted lips and a little bit over-sexualized. And that’s not what beauty means. In the end, I think beauty just means just being yourself. I don’t think we have to change ourselves to be in a certain way; I think we just have to keep ourselves as we are and don’t necessarily [need] to change.

Were you trying to reclaim the word ‘beauty,’ perhaps, from the male gaze and make it more about the way women see other women?

Maybe people that are going to look at my work are going to draw their own conclusions. I think I started the project in a very sincere way and the way it developed made us see some lessons from it.

The book features all these portraits of different women in different situations, of different ages, of different colors, of different sizes all over the world, and little snippets of their stories. How did you choose your subjects?

That’s a very beautiful question because I think everything is very instinctual and, maybe, it’s something that attracts you more than the appearance. Like a chemistry that happens for a moment between you and the person that you photograph. And you’re just drawn to the people that you’re going to photograph. It’s something very natural, it’s nothing planned. That’s the beauty of it, and that’s why the book is more honest and more sincere. Because if I would have planned everything, probably it would be very different.

Read more or listen at NPR.