With over 2 million followers, Iranian photographer Bahare Salehnia runs the most influential photography social media page in her home country of Iran. Since as early as six years old, Salehnia has been friends with the camera, capturing personality and emotion around her for the world to see.
Since entering into the U.S. market, she has had the unique opportunity to show the world what the U.S. is really about, bridging a cultural divide between Iran and the United States.
“I think there is a big divide on what things are like in Iran and in the U.S., so it’s nice to show the world all of these amazing people I capture,” Salehnia shared. “In this new, exciting journey, I now have a unique way to connect two places, because of social media. At the end of the day, we are all human. No matter where we live, what the color of our skin is, or the gender we identify as – photography is a powerful tool to show people this ideology.”
Having graduated from Imam Khomeini International University in civil engineering, she found herself standing at a crossroads – torn between choosing her college field and degree, or following her true passion with photography.
Ultimately, she chose to follow her heart, taking on the life of a professional photographer. Enrolling in several international courses and workshops in “portrait photography,” she began to give back by teaching her community what she had learned. One of her favorite workshops, she told me, was Peter Coulson’s portrait workshop in New York City.
The life of a professional photographer is no easy career, similar to that of any other artist. It requires compassion, patience, and commitment. While Salehnia’s Instagram success was not overnight, she strived to stand out in the space, avoiding imitation and copycat behavior often seen by many photographers.
“I try not to imitate others, but rather, searching for useful content to show and share with others,” she explained. “I take my path and career very seriously, and unfortunately today, very few people do that when it comes to originality.”
And when COVID-19 was at its worst, Salehnia had to get even more creative and original, hoping to continue her mission of providing beautiful originality in her work to give the world some form of joy and happiness during lockdown.
Just one month prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Salehnia came to the United States. “For me, the difficulty of immigration, mixed with being home and not going out, was very challenging. After a few weeks, I thought I should make the most out of what was happening, so I started to double my efforts, using this time to grow my career. And I’m happy I did.”
The pandemic was certainly a time for reflection and self-introspection. For the Iranian photographer, turning the lens on herself, she was reminded of memories of her mother, whom she lost when she was just 13-years old. “I had a great childhood, and was blessed to have been raised by wise and kind parents, alongside my older brother,” she shared with me.
Each day, Salehnia embraces the passion her mother taught her to have in life. “She taught me the importance of following my dreams,” Salehnia told me. “It was hard as a teenage girl losing her mom, but unfortunately, this is life. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger right? I have great memories of her and with her – the lessons she taught me are priceless. My brother and I were so lucky to have such an amazing dad in our life, who has always been supportive.”
She attributes her first real step into the world of photography to her father, who bought her a Canon 600D just five years ago – her first camera. “I of course took photography classes, and I loved creating and showing my vision of the around me, to those around me. I love depicting personality in my photos, which explains why I choose portrait photography – to show feelings and emotions, even when it’s not always sunshine and rainbows.”
She added that when she was younger, any time her parents had a camera out to take photos of the family, she would race to grab the camera for herself to take photos. “Photography is more than a picture on paper; it’s about telling stories,” Salehnia emphasized. “My father took a lot of pictures and videos from us when we were kids, so I have been friends with the camera since I was a child.”
The Dark Side of Photography
Like any child, the life of “glitz and glamour” was also on Salehnia’s horizon growing up. “I had that same dream of success and fame since I was a child; but the path that you see right now wasn’t the same path I started on. I had to better understand what I needed to do to succeed, which began with teaching people how to take better photos, as I was simultaneously learning.”
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
And the result of that success? “With over 2.2 million followers, my Instagram is the biggest, most influential photography page in Iran,” she revealed. “The Bahare Salehnia you see today, is the result of two years of hard work on Instagram, five years of hard work in photography, and 27 years of life experience.”
If you were to take a look at Salehnia’s Instagram, what do you see? “I love people; I love humans, and my goal is to help everyone in all fields of life, by providing information and featuring people on my page, helping them promote their own brands –that is my brand. I can’t even call my followers “followers” – because these people I am connected with are friends, whom I have large amounts of respect for. I love teaching my community about photography.”
In learning the ropes of proper Instagram etiquette, Salehnia believes that content on the platform which is based on photos, speaks much louder than words. “I consider Instagram to be the most popular and beneficial social media platform in the world,” she said. “At the end of the day, platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube are just tools that can help you as a brand grow and show your talent. You will learn how to make videos; how to engage and interact with others – but most importantly, you will have the opportunity to uncover your own talent and the way in which you view yourself. How you see yourself is key for growing and shining in the world.”
As much as Salehnia’s appreciation for simplicity in life has helped her tackle the everyday challenges of today’s realities, she is not blind to the power and advantage today’s technologies bring to her career.
“One of the most beautiful moments that can happen in a photographer’s career is the ability to share his/her/their portfolio with as many people as possible. In addition to just showing my photos online, I also have the ability to teach photography, helping pose and edit a complete stranger’s photos. I don’t know them, but the idea of making a complete stranger shine in their own craft, is extremely rewarding. The ability for me to do that because of platforms like Instagram are why I feel this technology is incredibly wonderful and powerful.”
But the Iranian photographer also advocates for a safe, secure, and positive experience online, advocating against online bullying and targeted harassment. While she has never experienced the harassment herself, she wanted to share a message to her community about the importance of practicing good digital etiquette, and staying beautiful online – not just for others, but for yourself.
You can follow Salehnia’s work on Instagram at @baharesalehnia.