We at CANDESCENT had the privilege of chatting to the amazing Gulnara Samoilova to discuss her impressive career in photography which brewed at the tender age of 15. Not only has she built her own platform, the ‘Women Street Photographers Project’, and annual exhibitions, she has also now added publishing a book to her long list of achievements. Titled Women Street Photographers, the book features work from over 100 female photographers and is now available to purchase on Amazon.
Hi Gulnara! So tell us, how did a career in photography come about for you?
Hi! My career in photography began as a mixture of independence, risk-taking, and overachieving. I grew up in extreme rural poverty in the city of Ufa, located in the republic of Bashkortostan, Russia, and didn’t have much familial support. No one told me what to do — or what not to do. So, when I fell in love with photography at the age of 15, there was no one to stand in my way of becoming an artist, even though there were no women doing that in the community.
I started working as a freelance photojournalist for a newspaper in Russia when I was 18 or 19 and was always going out on assignments. Photojournalism taught me how to make photographs in the moment: how to compose the shot so that the action, composition and lighting would create an emotional, memorable image — things that are very useful skills as a street photographer.
In 1992, I had the opportunity to travel to New York City to study at the International Centre of Photography, and once I arrived, I never looked back. I got a job as a printer at the Associated Press, and they made a position for me as the only photo retoucher in the organization. Working on various projects also taught me about seeing, as I studied the work of great photojournalists.
I was shooting for the AP, but after winning the World Press Photo Contest for my photographs of September 11, I needed to take time for myself to recover from what I had experienced on that day. I left photojournalism, opened a very successful wedding photography company, then realized I needed to make art and support artists to satisfy my soul. From this, in 2017 Women Street Photographers was born.
You have a respectably large platform; did you find anything difficult to get your head around when first promoting your photography business? Would you change anything?
I am very motivated to succeed. I really enjoy creating new spaces and building things, and there’s nothing so inspiring and empowering as doing the work yourself. As a photographer, I am most comfortable behind the camera. It is very easy for me to support people and causes by putting the focus on them and their work.
But as my Instagram platform grew, I understood I couldn’t be a faceless person. I had to make myself open and accessible, to show people who I was so that they could understand there was a real person behind the account. Going on IG Live was challenging! I’m not used to the focus being on me but I do my best to make sure that whenever I appear, I can make it a personable, relatable experience so that people engage with the subjects I am speaking about.
What advice would you give to someone who has just started out (in photography) and are perhaps struggling with a particular element such as growing a platform via social media?
Like all things in life, it is important to be yourself. But it often takes time, experimentation and practice to find out who you truly are. The best thing about photography is that there are so many styles to choose from, so many ways of seeing and creating pictures. I encourage people to take different approaches, to do something outside of the box. Don’t focus on what is popular, focus on what comes naturally and feels good!
When it comes to social media the most important thing is to be consistent in posting. People will come to see you as a reliable source, someone they can count on to provide a distinct point of view and offer them something no one else has or is doing. Also, it is important to engage with your followers: this is a community you are building – welcome them into your world!
Is there any other advice you’d like to offer as an established photographer and author of Women Street Photographers to a not-as-experienced upcoming photographer?
Don’t be afraid to dream big and follow your passion. Be patient, do the work, and have fun! You will be amazed what can happen if you allow your imagination to guide you through the process of creation.