North Korean women find their place in the "Atlas of Beauty"
Romanian photographer visited the country as part of her nearly decade-long project to capture the unseen beauty of women around the world
Mihaela Noroc is a Romanian photographer who for the past nine years has been taking pictures of women all over the world as part of her "Atlas of Beauty," a project she says is meant to show that “beauty is much more than what we usually see in the media.”
She was born in Moldova, where as a young girl, she witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union, after which she and her family moved to Romania. Noroc told RFA’s Korean Service that during her 2015 trip to North Korea her experiences under communist governments gave her insight into her photo subjects.
SHE WAS WORKING IN A HOTEL IN SINUIJU.
In Pyongyang, the capital of the country.
On the streets of Wonsan City.
UNIFORMS ARE VERY COMMON
IN NORTH KOREA.
One of the wide
boulevards of Pyongyang.
“It was just their reactions toward the camera, so maybe their personality was a bit strict because of the nature of the North Korean style. When you live in a communist country or when you live in a strong dictatorship, you change your personality. You act in a certain way outside the house, and in another certain way inside the house. It's like a double life,” Noroc said.
“I know that in Romania, for example, when we were communist, it was always like, ‘Oh please don't talk too loud because the neighbors will hear you. They will know that we have a TV, or they will know that we are eating oranges.’ It was a very strange life, this is what's happening in many countries with a dictatorship. I’m absolutely sure that in North Korea is the same. I’m sure they have double lives,” she said.
Library in Pyongyang.
A singer before her show, in Sinuiju.
Bicycles are the most popular vehicle.
Wonsan, a port city to The East Sea.
Subway station in Pyongyang.
Noroc took photos of 25 women in the capital Pyongyang, the eastern port city of Wonsan, and the western city of Sinuiju on the Chinese border. She was accompanied by two guides everywhere she went, who helped her ask her subjects for their consent.
“I was sure that they are very happy to have a foreigner to talk to them, or to notice them because I saw them on the street and I stopped them, or my guides stopped them, so I could see they were surprised,” she said.
A WORKER ON A TRAIN.
“I could see their excitement. From my impression, I think they were happy to be photographed,” she said.
It was as if the women were saying “Yes, you can photograph me, I have nothing to hide,” Noroc said.
FISHING IS VERY POPULAR IN WONSAN.
A waitress in Pyongyang.
Textile factory in Pyongyang.
UMBRELLAS ARE POPULAR FOR BLOCKING THE SUN.
ON NATIONAL DAY, HUGE MASS DANCES ARE HELD IN LARGE CITIES.
She was careful to explain that the photos could be released worldwide, and most of the North Korean women she met did not care and were enthusiastic about participating.
DURING CELEBRATIONS OR ON OTHER SPECIAL OCCASIONS, WOMEN WEAR TRADITIONAL OUTFITS.
“I think the umbrella woman was very happy to be photographed by a foreigner. You get this sometimes in some countries, like Afghanistan. When I went there in a very small area, the people were extremely happy to see me as a foreigner visiting their country because it was a sign of normality. In North Korea, they are photographed by a foreigner, and they are happy. This is a sign of openness towards the world,” she said.
PLAYING INSTRUMENTS IS A POPULAR ACTIVITY.
The photos of the 25 North Korean women taken by Noroc reveal different a range of facial expressions, from bright smiles at the camera to rigid looks, perhaps due to nervousness.
Student in Pyongyang.
SHE WAS WORKING IN A HOTEL IN SINUIJU.
The North Korean women included hotel and restaurant workers, singers, train attendants, students, and factory workers.
In Sinuiju, a city bordering China.
Lacking Korean language skills, she acknowledged her limitations in assessing the situation, but she said her impressions of her subjects contrasted greatly with conversations with her two guides.
PEOPLE WEAR PINS WITH THE TWO PREVIOUS GREAT LEADERS.
Here is some information about where else she has been and how she is distributing her stuff:
In “The Atlas of Beauty” Noroc shares her photos of women from almost 100 different countries she has traveled to since 2013. In 2017 she published a book that showcased the project as it stood in that year, but it has since expanded. She also sells individual prints and plans to open an exhibition, as well as selling some of the collection as NFTs.
Gates of Koryo Museum in Kaesong.
Cover photo: Mihaela Noroc takes a portrait of North Korean woman at the Pyongyang “Young Gwang” subway station.
All Photos: Mihaela Noroc / The Atlas of Beauty
Written: Jung Min Noh / RFA Korean Service In-Depth team
Translated: Leejin Jun, Claire Lee
Editing: Paul Eckert, H. Léo Kim, Paul Nelson, Jungwoo Jay Park, Eugene Whong
Web page produced by: Minh-Ha Le
Produced by Radio Free Asia
© 2022 RFA
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