It can be all too easy nowadays, especially as we start to dip into dark winter days, to focus on the bad in life— the stresses of jobs and money and holiday spending, the news full of tragic and worrisome stories, the conflicts both big and small. So it’s important, now more than ever, to shine a light on the good, and to replace those ugly stories on the nightly news and in our social media feeds with something beautiful.
Leading the way on this mission of beauty is travel photographer Mehmet Genç, who works under the name Rotasiz Seyyah, meaning “nomad without a route.” Originally from Turkey, Seyyah travels the world visiting and sharing communities and people who don’t often get attention, and who even more rarely fit society’s standards of “beauty.” In a world consumed by and obsessed with the new, the young, the shiny and the expensive, Seyyah turns his lens to indigenous, often-elderly women and shows us how beautiful they are— and he shows them, too.
His project is titled, simply, “You Are So Beautiful,” and the premise is as beautifully simple as it sounds: Seyyah takes a photo, then tells his subject “You are so beautiful,” and captures her reaction in a second photo. The before-and-after pairings are so sweet and revelatory, and remind us all of what an impact it can make to spread kindness and to not only create beauty, but to acknowledge it in unexpected places. Here are seven of our favorite reactions.
We just love how delighted 74-year-old Margarita looks in the second photo, like she can’t even believe somebody would say such a thing to her— but she likes it! We also love that Seyyah had to buy a fruit or two from the Ecuadorean fruit vendor before she’d let him take her photograph. Smart and beautiful.
Seyyah often gets permission from individuals to take their photograph by participating in the local economies. Like Margarita, this peanut-seller in Guatemala didn’t want her photo taken until he had bought a bag, and she wasn’t particularly open to smiling upon command, either. But when he told her she was “as beautiful as a young girl”? What a sweet transformation!
What’s especially wonderful about Seyyah’s project is he doesn’t limit himself to more gregarious individuals who might volunteer for photographs or attention. He sees and shares the beauty in more humble places, like shy Diomayda in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia. Her reaction is simultaneously so pleased and so bashful!
Another wonderful thing about projects like this one? Sharing and acknowledging beauty opens doors to unexpected places— sometimes literally, as in this before-and-after of a young woman in Colombia.
Seyyah specializes in finding beauty in the everyday routines of people. This woman, who is wearing a face mask to protect her skin from the intense, dry heat of Cabo de la Vela, probably didn’t expect to be told she was beautiful, but her reaction suggests she might from now on!
Somebody else who couldn’t believe Seyyah was saying she was beautiful? Seventy-seven-year-old Zarekk, whose reaction could only be described as “school-girlish!” What’s more, Seyyah – who, in addition to his native Turkish, has learned English and Spanish in his travels – was able to say so in her native language, with the help of a guide. What a beautiful moment of connection!
And sometimes, Seyyah gets in on the picture, too! Here he is in the Mexican City of San Cristobal, with a woman who almost refused to have her photo taken. In the end, she had a new friend to go with an unexpected compliment!
What incredible, moving pictures! Wonderfully, Seyyah plans to try to follow up with his subjects with another trip in a few years, and he has even more portraits to share. Be sure to check out his website for even more, and take a look at the compilation video below.
What do you think of Seyyah’s project? Have you ever seen something similar, or tried anything similar? How are you adding beauty and love to your life and community?