Gulnara Samoilova was born in 1964 in Ufa. After graduating from high school, she worked at the Bashphoto-Nur lab, washing, cutting, and sorting photographs and sending them out to other Ufa photo labs. In 1986-1992, she continued her work with photography as a laboratory technician, studio photographer, and photography teacher for children.

Gulnara Samoilova was the first photographer and photography-based artist in Bashkortostan. Her male colleagues would often ask her to pose for them in the nude—as a response to these requests, she started to shoot men in the nude. In the 90s, these photographs brought her quick fame.
In 1992, she went to the United States with 14 other photographers to participate in a traveling exhibition, and eventually decided to stay in the country. For a long time, she worked at the photography lab of the Associated Press news agency, where she retouched photographs and restored the archive.

Gulnara Samoilova one of the photographers who documented the 9/11 tragedy in New York City in 2001. Her works have gained the status of historical documents, the main testimony of that event. She received many prizes for them, including the most prestigious one from the World Press Photo.

Currently, Gulnara works in the genre of street photography. Since 2017, she has been leading the Women Street Photography project—a platform and a community that provides women photographers with professional opportunities and support. Gulnara Samoilova also teaches and gives workshops around the world.

She lives and works in New York City.