LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
A vegetable vendor in Guatemala with dark straight hair framing her face, deeply etched with lines, an insurance sales team in Cape Town dressed in dark suits and waiting for a bus, a mother in Tehran, head wrapped in purple, hugging her baby boy - Photographer Mihaela Noroc sees beauty in all of these women and has spent four years shooting portraits and collecting stories on her world travels. You can see that work in her new book "The Atlas Of Beauty." Mihaela Noroc joins me now from Berlin. Welcome to the program.
MIHAELA NOROC: Hello, nice to meet you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me how the project started.
NOROC: Well, the project started almost four years ago. And I just traveled around the world for one year. And in the beginning, it was - I was not expecting to do a worldwide project like it became now. It was just very - something very genuine and sincere. I just was photographing people that I met. And after one year, it became very popular. And now it's just a book that's just so wonderful in my hands.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How did you finance this? I mean, it must have been expensive to travel to all the places that you traveled.
NOROC: Well, the first year it was all with my own savings. And I traveled as a backpacker, as low budget as possible. That was not always very easy. And the second year, I managed to make a crowdfunding campaign. And I just kept working on my project.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The book is all these portraits of different women in different situations of different ages of different colors of different sizes all over the world. Tell me the story of one of the encounters, as one of the women - how you met them. And do you just take their picture immediately? Or do you make an appointment to come back and see them?
NOROC: It's very different from one situation to another. Sometimes I spend a few seconds, and sometimes I spend a few hours. If the woman will let me stay with them and photograph them and tell me their story, it will be wonderful. But not everybody has the time for that. So whenever I have the opportunity to spend a few hours, it's amazing.
But I will tell you, for example, the story of the woman that I photographed for the cover of the book. I was in India in Varanasi. It was early morning. And usually, when you go to the Ganga where you're going to see a lot of Hindu pilgrims making their offerings in the river. So she was one of them. I saw her in the water making the offering.
I just entered very quickly. I asked her for permission with my expression. And she said yes. I made a few pictures, just a few of them. And that was it. I let her continue her offering. And there are lots of magical moments like that in our lifetime. And maybe sometimes we are just not too careful to see them. And we are too preoccupied with other problems.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes. So I'd like to talk about one of the photographs - Raquel (ph) in Brazil. I lived in Brazil so it resonated. What is her story and what did you learn about her?
NOROC: So I photographed Raquel in North Brazil. And I spent two days with her. I'm actually still friends with her on Facebook because usually I try to keep contact with the women that I photograph. And her story was heartbreaking. When she was four months pregnant, her boyfriend got murdered in one of the favelas from Brazil. And now she's raising her child alone. And she's trying to sell coconuts because this is the only way she can afford living there.
I was amazed because even though her life story is extremely difficult, she got the power to be very positive. She was smiling a lot. She was taking care of her child with a lot of positive energy.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She called her child biscuit.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, biscoito.
NOROC: Yeah. She's calling her child Biscoito. Yeah, yeah.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's very sweet. It's hard to travel as a woman and especially as a photographer, I imagine. What were the challenges personally for you?
NOROC: Well, whenever I go into one country, I will always say that I'm a tourist. I have the camera just to make some pictures as a tourist. I never tell them that I'm a photographer because this will surely make the things worse. And it's difficult because I always have to take care not to get robbed. This happened once, you know? But it was just my phone got stolen. That's it.
But once you're with the big camera in your hands as a woman, you're more of a target. So I always try to keep a low profile, go in very crowded areas during day time and not to draw a lot of attention upon me. And those are the women that I'm with. They're always going to help me because I don't know yet to know each other. And we become friends. And they will try their best to keep me secure.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the things that struck me is some of the comments by some of the women. They don't necessarily see themselves as beautiful. They did not see in themselves the thing that you saw in them. Did you find that to be common? I'm thinking in particular of the sisters from Switzerland with the red hair who said they'd been made fun of as children because of the color of their hair. And you were drawn to them.
NOROC: During the project, I did realize that women that I photographed were not confident in their way of being. So whenever I posted their picture on my social media, we got a lot of comments and positive reaction from the people. So the women that I photographed, after that, they realized how beautiful they are. That was extraordinary for them and for me because it gives them confidence.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How did this project change you?
NOROC: I'm much more confident. I'm much more respectful of what the other women in the world have to go through every day because the life is so difficult in so many parts of the world. And this project was a huge gift in my life. And this is why I'm trying to put it out there in the world for people to understand that the world is extremely beautiful. And we should really appreciate everything that's happening in our life.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mihaela Noroc, her new book is "The Atlas Of Beauty: Women Of The World In 500 Portraits." Thank you very much.
NOROC: Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIG BLUE BALL'S "FOREST")
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