THE ATLAS OF BEAUTY

Thank you for embarking on this journey with me. I’m Mihaela Noroc, the one on the back of this motorcycle. This colorful journey will take you to more than 50 countries, through 500 portraits of wonderful women. Together, we will celebrate the diversity of this fascinating world, but first, let’s go back to where it all began.

I’ve spent most of my life in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, a place roughly equidistant from Western Europe, Asia, and Africa. The 1990s, when I was growing up, were difficult years in Eastern Europe, with a lot of unemployment and poverty. As a result, my family moved often. Almost every year I would be sent to a new school, have to get used to a new neighborhood and make new friends. Back then, I struggled each time I had to leave one group of friends for another, move from one flat to another, but years later I realized that this gave me the capacity to adapt in so many new environments.

My father is a painter so I spent my childhood surrounded by his paintings, enjoying the diversity of colors. When I was 16, he gave me an old, second-hand film camera. I was too shy to go on the streets and take photos of strangers, so my first subjects were my mother and my sister. That’s how I started to photograph women, in a natural and very low-key way. At night, when my family was sleeping, the bathroom was mine and I would transform it into a darkroom to print my photos.

I went to college to study photography, but received little encouragement from my professors. These were the years of the digital boom, when everybody started buying cameras and I saw myself as just another average photographer surrounded by millions of others. I felt that the world didn’t need another mediocre artist, so I quit photography. I took work in other fields for money and a practical future, without really enjoying what I was doing.

For years I felt that I was in the wrong place, but didn’t have the power to escape. Then in 2013 a trip to Ethiopia changed my perspective. I brought along my camera, just like any other tourist.

Right away, I was fascinated by the women I saw during that vacation. Some were living in tribes, just as nonchalant about nudity as their ancestors had been generations before. 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 beauty and diversity in one country, what about the rest of the world? I wondered. I realized that the wonderful women of our planet need much more attention, and that true beauty is more than what we so often see in the media. In that moment, I started to dream again, and found the strength to break from my comfort zone, quit my job, and go back to photography. I started to travel, take photos and, little by little, I regained my self-confidence.

In the beginning, The Atlas of Beauty was just a small, personal project, funded with my savings, known only within my own country. I traveled on a very low budget, as a backpacker, mingling with the locals and trying to understand their cultures.

After a while, the project took off on social media, something I had never imagined would happen. Millions of people were looking at my photos, and my email inbox filled up with messages from around the world. Sometimes people even recognized me on the street. Some thanked me, saying that I changed their way of looking at women. I was particularly happy that not just women, but also men, were interested in my work.

I now had a mandate: I would have to work harder, capture more diversity, and find more inspiring stories in order to send a message that really would be heard. People from all over began to donate to the project, allowing me to continue my work independently.

Traveling to so many fascinating places has given me some of the best times of my life, but also the most challenging. I’ve been close to war zones and wandered through dangerous slums. I’ve been freezing, overheated, emotional. I’ve been out of money, and I’ve been ill while far from the comforts of home. But meeting so many incredible women kept me moving forward on my path with enthusiasm.

I’ve been refused by hundreds of women whose portraits I had hoped to take, and I saw how discrimination and societal pressure weigh on the shoulders of so many. Some were simply scared to be photographed, even if they might have loved it. Others were not confident enough. But I’m very grateful to all the women I met, whether they said yes or no to my proposal. Sometimes we spent a few seconds together, other times hours, but from each of them I learned something.

I owe everything I am today to these women. Each encounter taught me to be a better person, to see beauty everywhere, and in everything, not just on the surface. I always use natural light for my photos, trying to create a feeling of coziness, and to capture that magic moment when a woman opens up, so I can dive into her eyes and capture her inner beauty too.

When I say “beauty,” I mean more than the beauty that we often see today, which is usually about sexual attractiveness, in the service of selling something. If you put the words “beautiful woman” into Google, you’ll see mostly images of seductive women: mouths pouting or lips parted; hands pushing their hair into a bed-head tangle; not many clothes at all. But in this book you will see that beauty means much more.

I think that beauty is about being yourself, natural and authentic, about letting people see what is inside of you. Today it is not always easy to do that, because there’s so much pressure on women to look and behave in a certain way. In some environments, it is the pressure to be modest and cover up as much as possible. In others, by contrast, the pressure is to look attractive. But in the end, each woman should be free to decide how to present herself, and to explore her own beauty without feeling pressure from the outside world.

So many times I approached women who told me that they don’t feel beautiful, or that they should be dressed up and wear make-up to be photographed. Fortunately, after I posted their photo and story on my social media, receiving thousands of “likes” and lovely comments, they understood how special they are. They needed a little shot of fame to recognize their own beauty.

Beauty, as I see it, can teach us tolerance, honesty, and kindness, and our world needs these values more than ever.

This book will take you to many diverse environments. I’ve traveled through Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as well as the United States, France, and Brazil. And I realized that although we are so different, there’s something deeper that connects us all as human beings. In the end we are all part of the same beautiful family. We shouldn’t build walls between us, based on gender, ethnicity, color, sexual orientation, or religion, but find paths that connect us to work together—women and men—and make this world a better place.

I hope this book will be one of these paths. Let’s start the journey!

美貌地图

       感谢你和我一起踏上这趟旅程。我是Mihaela Noroc,就是坐在摩托车后面的那个人。这趟五彩缤纷的旅途将会欣赏到来自50多个国家的500个女性。与我一起,我们将庆祝这个奇妙世界的多元化,但是首先,让我们回到一切开始的地方。

       我大部分时光在罗马尼亚的首都——大致距离西欧、亚洲和非洲这三大洲相等的——布加勒斯特度过。上世纪九十年代是我成长的年代,那些年东欧经济十分萧条,充满着失业和贫穷。受此影响,我们家也是经常搬来搬去。几乎每年,我都会去一所新学校,熟悉新邻居,认识新同学。回想起来,当你我每次都是挣扎着从熟悉的朋友圈到另外一个不熟悉的朋友圈,从当前的“平台”到另外一个“平台”。但是许多年之后我意识到,这种经历给了我一种能够快速适应各种新环境的能力。

       我的父亲是一名画家,所以我的童年深受各种各样色彩的熏陶。当我十六岁的时候,父亲送给我一个胶片摄影机。我那时候很害羞,不敢上街去拍一些陌生人的照片,所以我人生的第一幅作品就是我的母亲和妹妹(或姐姐)。这就是我怎样用一种很自然的、水平很低的方式去拍摄女性来历。晚上家人都睡觉的时候,整个浴室就是我的,我会把照片从暗室里洗出来。

       大学期间我修的是摄影学,但我的老师却很少鼓励我。那些年正值数码时代,每个人都开始买数码照相机,但我却认为我是那数百万同行中又一个非常普通的摄影师。我觉得这个世界不需要平庸的艺术家,因此我退出摄影圈。我在其他领域找了一份工作,谋求生活和未来,但并不真正地喜欢我做的事情。

       很长时间我觉得我踏入了错误的地方,但是我没有勇气去逃离它。但2013年,一趟去埃塞俄比亚的旅程改变了我的想法。一路上我都带着我的相机,就跟其他游客没什么区别。

       当时我就被当地的女性所深深吸引。一些生活在部落里的女性,对自己裸体毫不在意,就跟他们的祖先一代一代之前传承下来那样。其他女性属于保守团体,用布遮盖住她们的头。还有些生活在大城市的女性,她们过着现代人的生活。

       她们中的大部分努力工作,为生活劳累,有时候还要面对性别歧视的问题。但就是在这样一种恶劣的环境下,她们像天空中的闪耀的星星一样,有自己的尊严,力量和美丽。

       如果像埃塞俄比亚这样的国家而言就有这么多的美和多元化,那世界上的其他国家呢?我想我意识到我们所在的星球的伟大女性需要更多的关注,并且真真正正的美远远地要超过那些我们经常在媒体中看到的所谓的美。那时候,我又一次天马行空的做起美梦来,并且找到了内心的力量去冲破自己的舒适区。我辞掉了工作,又回到了最初所开始的摄影。我开始旅行,开始摄影,渐渐地,我重新拾回了我的自信心。

       起初,《美貌地图》只是一个规模很小的个人作品,并且是我拿自己的积蓄来资助我的作品的,这些作品还仅仅在我的国家被人所知。我是以很低的预算来旅行的,作为一个背包客,我和当地人住在一起并且尽可能地去理解他们的文化。

       在这些作品放到社交媒体上之后,一些意想不到的事情随之而来。数以百万的人们在欣赏我的图片,我的邮箱充满了来自世界各地的来信。有时候有些人甚至能认出我来。有些会感谢我,说我改变了他们对女性的看法。我特别开心的是,不仅仅是女性,就连男性也对我的作品感兴趣。

       我现在立一个军令状:我一定会努力工作,捕捉更多的不同的美,让大家能够真正地听到更多具有启发性的故事。世界各地的人们开始捐助我的这项工程,让我能够继续独立地工作。

       去这么多如此美妙的地方旅行确实让我体会到了人生的美好,但也同时很具有挑战性。比如说我曾经近距离接触过战争,行走在贫民窟。我曾经处于过于冰冷,或过于热情的情绪化的环境中。我曾经一分钱都没有,曾经病的很重但家却在远方。但,遇见这么的不可思议的女性对我来说就是我旅行路上的兴奋剂,使我不断前行。

       我曾经被数百个女性拒绝拍照,但那些女性我是真的想拍。我看到了歧视和社会压力是怎样压在她们的肩膀上的。一些人就是怕被拍照,就算她们可能喜欢拍照,而其他人不够自信。但我非常感谢所有我遇见的每一位女性,无论她们是否同意或者拒绝我的请求。有时候我们共处几秒钟,有时候几小时,但从每个人中我能学到一些东西。

       我今天的一切都归功于这些女性。每一次相遇教会了我怎样成为一个更加完美的人,怎样发现周围的美,不仅仅是这些,而是任何事,并且没有停留在表面。照片上我总是使用自然光,尝试去营造一种温馨的氛围。当女性放开自我的时候,用自然光去捕捉那一瞬间能够深入她们的眼睛,也能捕捉她们内心的美。

       当我说“美人”的时候,我的意思不仅仅是我们平常所说的美人,也就是我们所说的性感美人,买卖自己身体的那种。如果你在谷歌上搜索“beautiful woman”,你大多数会看到那种性感的美人:翘着嘴,嘴唇张开;手把头发打乱;衣冠不整等等。但在这部作品中,你看到的美人意义更加深远。

       我认为美丽就是成为你自己,自然的,原始的,能够让人们看到内心的你。今天的确不容易做到这一点,因为有太多的压力在女性身上,这些压力让她们的行为举止成为了一种“特定的”方式。在一些环境中,是压力让女性穿着朴素,尽可能的遮住自己。在其他环境中,相反,是压力让女性穿的更加靓丽。但总之,每一位女性应该自由地决定怎样表现自己,去探索属于自己的美而不会感受到来自外界的压力。

       好多次我遇见的女性告诉我她们觉得自己不漂亮,或者说在拍照之前好好打扮一下。幸运的是,在我把照片贴到我的社交媒体上的时候,收到了几千个赞和友好的评论。网友们理解她们有多么的特别。她们需要一点点的出名才能够认识到自己的美丽。

       美,正如我看到的那样,可以教会我们忍耐、诚信和善良。我们的世界比往常更加需要这些美好的品德。

       这本书会带你去不同的环境中去。我去过阿富汗、伊拉克、伊朗、朝鲜,也去美国、法国和巴西。我认识到尽管我们看起来不同,但世上有一些更加深刻的东西联系着我们人类。最后的最后,我想说我们是相同美丽大家庭的一部分,我们之间不应该用一面墙来隔绝,这面墙以性别、种族、肤色、性取向或者宗教为地基。而是找到一条女性和男性一起努力的一条路,并且联合起来把这个世界变得更加美好。

       我希望这本书成为那些路的其中之一。让我们开始我们的旅程吧!