For photographer Mihaela Noroc, connecting with people (and more specifically, women) is the most important part of travelling. With her blog The Atlas of Beauty, Noroc photographs women around the world, capturing beauty in all its different forms.
“Often, The Atlas of Beauty will take me back to a country I had visited before the project began,” Noroc said. “But my second visit is always totally different. I am not a tourist anymore. Through my work, I have the chance to talk with dozens of people and discover a deeper view of that country.”
Noroc has found that by understanding what is perceived as beautiful in a certain place, she can better understand its customs and culture. “In many ex-communist countries, for example, where cities are dominated by grey buildings and boulevards, women tend to cultivate their beauty in a very colourful way,” Noroc said. “They use a lot of make-up and powerful colours in their outfits.”
In India, Noroc finds that the perception of beauty mirrors the country’s lively and somewhat frenetic atmosphere, where traditional attire is embellished with elaborate patterns and colours. “Most of the roads are dominated by chaotic traffic,” Noroc said, “but when you see a woman dressed in sari with henna drawings on her hands, everything seems to be in the right spot.” By contrast, Noroc said that Western women tend to favour minimalism and simplicity, reflecting their “more organised” way of life.
It is through the intimacy of her photography that Noroc is able to uncover certain subtleties of different cultures – even if those cultures are almost entirely unknown to the rest of the world. “North Korean women are living in total isolation, so they are not familiar with global trends,” she said. “But they have a passion for high heels and usually wear classic outfits, always accompanied by a pin on their chest representing one of the country's leaders,” Noroc recalled.
Regardless of outfit choices, the true meaning of Noroc’s photography is more than skin deep. “My project is not just about outer beauty,” she said. “Through my photos, I try to capture that feeling of warmth and serenity that expresses the inner beauty of every woman.”
In a time of political divide in many parts of the planet, Noroc hopes that her work will be one small step towards finding something that will bring us all together. “The women in my photos are different in many ways, but so similar in others. We are all humans and there is something beyond ethnicity, religion or social status that connects us.”
If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital, Travel and Autos, delivered to your inbox every Friday.