Gulnara Samoilova is a New York City street and fine art photographer. She received many awards for her photographs from September 11, 2001, including first prize in the most prestigious World Press Photo competition.


Gulnara is a Tatar-born fine art and street photographer based in New York City. She holds a certificate in fine art from the International Center of Photography in New York City and a diploma from Moscow Poletech College in general photography. Gulnara is one of 89 live/work artists at the prestigious El Barrio's Artspace PS 109. In her native Russia she was a photography teacher and specialized in documentary and conceptual photography. Before moving to New York City in 1992 Gulnara was the only female fine art photographer in the Autonomous Republic of Bashkortostan where she was born in Ufa, the capital. 

Gulnara continued with fine art and documentary photography after moving to New York City. She had planned to be in Russia on September 11, 2001 to photograph a family she was chronicling as part of an ongoing personal project. Instead, she was nearly buried alive in the ash and debris from the fall of the World Trade Center while documenting the events of the day as a staff photographer for the Associated Press. Gulnara received national and international awards for her photographs from 9/11, including first prize in the most prestigious World Press Photo competition, The New York Press Club, and she was named Interphoto Photographer of the Year.

In 2012 while on assignment in China she became more serious about street photography. A subsequent trip to Cuba increased her interest in the human condition. As a result, she was compelled to document the everyday life of people and she has traveled to Brazil, Myanmar, and Mexico. When Gulnara photographs her subjects she makes no secret of her intentions. Without speaking the language she blends into the environment and patiently waits for the moment to unfold. Her resulting photographs feel real and effortless. 

Gulnara began hand coloring her photographs in 1989, after seeing a Gilbert & George exhibition in Moscow. Their distinctive method of photography gave her permission to express what was hidden in her pictures about life in the Soviet Union. Her work explored issues including neglected elderly, single mothers, air pollution, and AIDS. Gulnara was one of the first artists in the Soviet Union to mix photography, oil painting and collage. 

In 2014 Gulnara attends Mary Ellen Mark's workshop who later wrote to her "...someone as talented as you really should pursue a serious personal body of work.” She begins to work on a new series exploring her childhood and family members she never knew anything about. In the ongoing series "Lost Family" she leave parts of the black and white photographs untouched to represent the “present" life. Using color, and without any attempt at photo realism, she uses oil paints to show a “fantasy, dream like "life". By creating a collage using her found family and childhood photographs, Gulnara connect the present and the past to covey an imagined story.

Gulnara's work is a part of major collections at the Museum of the City of New York, The New York Public Library, New York Historical Society, the Newseum,The Akron Museum, 9/11 Memorial Museum, and Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Her photographs are in the private collections of Elton John, Steven Kasher, Timothy Baum, and Henry Buhl. 

You’re an excellent street photographer. You understand how to shoot around a moment and wait for the right elements to come together.