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Gulnara is a Tatar-born American fine art and street photographer.
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 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 explores 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.
Gulnara leaves parts of her black and white photographs untouched to represent the “real life” of people with their problems and relationships. Using oil paints, she adds color to show a “fantasy” life. When she thinks her subjects are trying to say something she expresses their thoughts in speech bubbles. She makes no attempt to use color for any type of photo realism but uses it in conjunction with the base black and white image to complete the message she wishes to express. In her latest series she explores her childhood by adding montages of herself and of found photographs from her late mother and grandmother’s family albums.
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 poor 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’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 and the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Her photographs are in the private collections of Elton John, 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.” – Mary Ellen Mark