The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

April 8, 2018
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A photographer travels around the world for four years, documenting the diverse beauty of everyday women.

Women of the world in 500 portraits. It’s not easy to fulfill the promise of delivering an atlas of beauty when the world is wide. But Mihaela Noroc, hailing from Bucharest, Romania, has created a lusciously comprehensive compendium, spanning continents and nations. While the media has been criticized for favoring only certain images, Noroc features women of all colors, all ethnicities, ages, religions and regions with unforced grace. There are various interpretations of femininity, various backdrops and scenes. But beauty blossoms on every face, in symmetry, color, clear skin, fullness in eyes or lips.

The book has tremendous value artistically. Noroc has an intuitive eye for color and harmony, and every portrait is what a portrait should be--an intimate shot that halts place and time. Facial expressions range from proud and fierce, to meek and innocent, haunting, harrowing, or humble, at peace. My favorite spread might be pages 82-83, where two women with almost impossibly different lives look on, side by side. The woman to the right lives in a remote, yet war-plagued rural country, the woman on the left a singer-songwriter working through a first album. It makes sense to pair them together visually--they share the shape of their face, perfectly almond green eyes, each wearing a red scarf and garb of the same color family. But one was shot in Haifa, Israel, the other in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan.

And what makes the book so human is the stories. Women’s hopes and dreams from all over the world are given a voice in descriptions below the portraits. Sometimes it’s simple--where they’re from, what they’re doing--and other times they share personal experiences and complex narratives. Regional lingo makes its way into entrées into culture and tradition, and sometimes women’s voices are direct through a quoted paragraph. What’s amazing is it is nonfiction. It’s all real. Each woman or girl is likely out there right now, living her life. They are mothers and daughters and grandmothers and sisters, mirror images of strength across continents.

The book is also a love letter to all women. Noroc recognizes every woman is beautiful by portraiting with equal love. And while every woman is simply as she is, she comes from every profession, every race, every walk of life, often in direct conflict with institutions and norms that seek to silence her. By travelling the world to illuminate the people we walk by on the street, Noroc demands we see every person in a new light. This atlas feels like a precious heavy volume, something truly meaningful that has been collected and put on paper as art. Every spread is purposeful. Images are paired together for similar arrangements, having siblings beside them, hands around their face, or children in the arms. What unites them all is even more warming--their evident beauty when you stop the clock and look and listen. Sheroes indeed.

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