“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”
All portraits are simple, light is natural, sometimes the background appears and gives the atmosphere of the place the person is living in, sometimes we find ourself face to face with a close up, background accurately blurried in a soft bokeh with a minimum depth of field.
All lie in the moment, as every street photography´s event happen : nothing can be set, sometimes catching a moment of break in the flow of people and time, sometimes few minutes to ask and get the eyes, the smile, the expression you have seen (or felt).
Sometimes Mihaela has the chance to get in deep touch with the women she met, sometimes not even had the chance to know their names, just an exchange of smile, a request , a positive answer with a silent nod. And many, many “no” during the long way.
“I´ve been refused by hundreds of women whose portraits I had hoped to take, and I saw how discrimination and society pressure weight on the shoulders of so many. […]
But I´m very grateful to all the women I met, whether they say yes or no to my proposal. Sometimes we spent a few seconds together, other times hours, but from each of them I learned something.”
“The Atlas of Beauty” is a multilayered project and experience, surely for Mihaela, who said that is “the project of my life” and for us as well, as humans, as travellers, as wish-to-be travellers, as photographers, as artists.
I started following this project only when it becames known on the web, but since then I never stopped.
The idea of meeting people all over the world, women in this case, the idea of creating an Atlas of Beauty made of people and stories so different made me thinking that the real Beauty here is that Diversity that Mihaela has got with her sensibility and her camera.
And she is part of that Beauty, with her open heart, her vibrant energy, her sparkling enthusiasm for what she did and still doing.
I had the chance to talk with her here in Berlin, at the opening day of the exhibition “The Atlas of Beauty”, organized by “Gesellschaft für humanistische Fotografie” in the space of “F3 – Freiraum für Fotografie”.
I arrived there pretty early, in Berlin was already dark, i´ve seen Mihaela talking with Katharina Mouratidi, artistic director of the organization which promoted the exhibition.
Both were very kind, I asked the day before for the interview and there I was, sitting on a confortable couch with Mihaela smiling, her beautiful pictures surrounding us.
Me : Nice to meet you, Mihaela, it´s really a pleasure, thanks for having me here. I´ve got to know you and your project last year and as soon as I know you were coming to Berlin, I started planning to meet you and talk to you…
Mihaela : so do you live here?
Me : Yes, I live in Berlin….
Mihaela : Which is a great place!
Me : Yeah, it is a nice place, especially for photography lovers! A question that burns in me and probably in others a lot : how did you get in contact with all these women and did you manage to portrait them?
Mihaela : Oh, it´s easy! Mostly i got them on the streets…Whenever went to one city, i posted on my facebook page, targeting the country and asking people for informations about places where I can go, where are the crowed areas…I need to go in very crowed places! And walking from three to five hours every day, letting myself being open and impressed. Whenever somebody pass me by i am interested with, i go and ask. Also because of these messages in Facebook or through these posts on Facebook i received messages from people who wanted to be part in my Project…You see, I have some firefighters from Mexico, so somebody from the firefighter company wrote me and ask if I wanted to come. Of course, I like to go on the street, it´s very personal what´s going on there…Now I am not working, I didn´t make pictures since two months, and my life is like this (she made a straight movement with her hand, to draw a plain, quite life) but when I am working on the street for the project my life is like that! (she moved her hand drawing curves up and down, like a rollercostear). And when(then) you have a picture that is amazing and everything comes together, because Street Photography for me is about the right person on the right light, in the right moment on the right background, so it´s like the whole universe is going to cospire for the picture to exist!
Me : There are different situation in your pictures, on the street as you said, in private houses, shops, which kind of connection did you have with the people you´ve met, there were differences in your approach to them?
Mihaela : There is a difference, the thing is you to have the permission from that person, because i am a stranger for her, she´s going to see me for few second and having an impression about me…if she accept me, then i know it will be amazing…i always tried to make a picture that has something special…I have so many “pictures” that don´t exist but in my head, because they said no, but I have the image in my mind, the meeting with them. But what happen between two women when they stay together, is going to form a small connection, sometimes we got friends, it was an exchange of energy… i am still in contact with a lot of them.
Me : And how did you solve the communication problems with people talking so many different languages?
Mihaela : I have skills in five languages, english anyway let me got by in a lot of countries, same with spanish. Of course in asian countries I had more problems, sometimes I had somebody who helped me with translation…This is also the reason why I couldn´t have informations about the people in all the pictures, I just have the pictures.
Me: We are living in a very difficult period, maybe everybody say so about her/his own present, there is a diffuse lack of trust, a feeling of danger and fear, how do you see your project in this world we´re living in, it seems to me that there is a political message, or at least a humanistic message…
Mihaela : It is a human message, yes. Politicians sometimes use human nature for their own purpose. In some countries is difficult, people are going to say “no”, maybe because they are scared, because they don´t trust me, I am a foreigner, they think “maybe she is not who she says she is”…In South America I was refused a lot, because they were scared to be kidnapped…you see, social and political (environment) changed a lot my work, in some countries i asked ten people and only one said “yes”, Europe is easier, is safer, well we have some down sides but mostly is safer than other places. In some countries there is a social pressure, women would like to say “yes” but they are not going to do it because of the father, the husband, the brother…
“Beauty, as I can see, can teach us tolerance, honesty and kindness, and our world needs these values more than ever”
Me : That brings me to the next question, you´re a woman who took pictures of women all over the world, what do you think about the woman situation, we are talking a lot about it, and what do you think your work can do about it?
Mihaela : It´s a good question, I tell you why. Before i started travelling the world i was born and i lived in Moldova. I always say that probably the only thing the Communist did right, because didn´t like it, it was very difficult for us, but the only thing it was that men and women were equal, growing up I never considered myself lower than my male collegues…When i started travelling, i found than the world is an extremely unfair place for women, they have always to take care of children, make a lot of sacrifices, violence against women is huge, you see there is (a picture of) an iranian woman who survived an acid attack…Before starting this project I dind´t know that women have to go through so many struggles…Now my work changed a lot, I am focusing more and more on these issues, I have more than one million of follower in facebook and i am very happy to make a social problem visible and things that people can change in their own countries.
“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. […]
I think that beauty is about being yourself, natural and authentic, abaout letting people see what is inside you. Today is not always easy to do that, because there is so much pressure on women to look and behave in a certain way. […]
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”
Me : What were you doing before and how came to you this big change and this project?
Mihaela : Actually I started with photography when I was 16, my father gave me my first camera, I went to University of Arts in Bucarest, but I didn´t get much encouragement from my teachers, so I decided to give up Photography and I didn´t touch my camera for 7 years. I was working in TV production, casting, kind of things I didn´t like, i was very unhappy, not good…The thing the got me out of it, that makes me happy was travelling…
“In 2013 a trip to Ethiopia changed my perspective. I brought along my camera, like any other tourist. Right away i was fascinated by the women I saw during this vacation. 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, strenght and beauty.”
And when you travel, you get curious, I started to feel more confident to take my camera, not as a photographer necessarly, but as a person…I put too much pressure on this “photography thing”, you know? I tooks a long time before I started to introduce myself as a photographer, i didn´t feel confident enough…And I still don’t like this word!
Me : And what´s next for you?
Mihaela : I am going to do this project for the rest of my life! This is my life-project, i am getting better, now I know what I want, how to get better pictures, I don´t have so much experience, this project taught me a lot of things!
“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.”
The exhibition in Berlin goes until the 21 January 2018 at the F3 – Freiraum für Fotografie, don´t miss it.
If you want to buy the book and support Mihaela Noroc and her project, visit the website The Atlas of Beauty.
I´ll see you around!