A woman stands against a barren desert backdrop. She is sporting a black-and-white polka-dotted ghagra-choli, and multi-coloured beads adorn her neck. Save for a few camels, the landscape is devoid of any signs of life or civilisation. And yet, the only thing that stands out in the photograph is the woman, not because of her striking outfit, but because something about her look inspires resilience as she stares straight into the lens. “Indian women are incredibly graceful, and, at the same time, powerful while dealing with everyday struggles. They deserve admiration and respect,” says photographer Mihaela Noroc, who is on a mission to preserve cultural diversity across the world through her online photo project, Atlas of Beauty.
Romanian photographer Noroc (30)conceptualised the project while on a vacation. “Three years ago, I was travelling in Ethiopia. It was there that I realised that women, no matter the social background, were all elegant and stylish, in their own traditional way. That is when a dream was born — to document the beauty of ordinary women, across the world,” says Noroc.
Today, Atlas of Beauty is an internet phenomenon with many publications sharing her work; the project boasts of a million followers across social media platforms. Through the project, the photographer hopes to archive the indigenous cultures across the planet through portraits of women.
The India chapter
True to her word, Noroc has been on the road since August 2013. Having poured in her savings into the project, and with additional help from friends, she has covered 45 countries, across five continents, armed with nothing more than a camera and a bag-pack. And now, she is finally in India. “I have visited Varanasi, Delhi, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Amritsar, Mumbai, Nashik and Goa. This is the longest time I have ever spent in a country for the project, and that’s because I found India truly incredible. I hope, someday, I will be back because there is much more diversity to show,” she says.
Interestingly, Noroc shot actor Sonam Kapoor for the India leg. “Sonam is a symbol of beauty and success. My wish was to let Indian women know that, for me, they are all stars. They have all the reasons in the world to be proud of themselves, and I hope this photos series gives them more confidence to face the daily challenges,” she says.
Noroc’s most “intense” encounter in India was with Neelam, a pavement dweller from Mumbai. “Her dignity and wisdom were a life lesson to me. She told me that her dream was to study, to find a good job. But I think she dreams about a proper home too,” says Noroc.
Noroc’s ultimate vision, with the project, however, is to document whatever originality is left in the world. “Beauty means keeping alive your culture. In 50 years, women all over the world will dress the same. I hope my project will be a witness to the cultures of my era,” she says.
To follow the project and to contribute to it, visit theatlasofbeauty.com