Tasha van Zandt grew up on National Geographic. As a budding young explorer in Minnesota, she started getting the magazines at six years old, and quickly saw her own future in them.
Tasha started “thinking about photography as a tool and passport to connect with other cultures and places” very early on, she says. And passports have been central to her life — though she grew up in the Midwest, her mother emigrated from Russia before Tasha was born. “It was really important to my mother to instill a strong global worldview and learn about other places and languages,” Tasha says.
Armed with a point-and-shoot camera, Tasha found that photography was her tool to develop that worldview. She started working in a dark room in middle school, and soon moved on to video.
After getting accepted to a pre-college arts program for media art, Tasha trained in both media, exploring their differences and similarities to build a balanced approach. “My relationship with filmmaking and photography has been very holistic between the two worlds,” she says. “I use filmmaking where photography leads off, and photography where filmmaking leaves off.”
From the Midwest to Tanzania
Just like the moving image she employs in filmmaking, Tasha is rarely stationary. Now a resident of San Francisco, she’s previously called Buenos Aires, Paris, and Los Angeles home.
And those are just the places she’s had mailing addresses. She’s spent extensive time working in Tanzania, Antarctica, and Southeast Asia, and she seems to always be developing new projects in new destinations.
Tasha’s travels are driven by her desire to tell stories about the intersection of communities and conservation. “We’re all impacted by the changes that are happening to our planet,” she says. “In my work, I’m dedicated to telling human-driven stories of conservation. The more personal the message, the more personally people can connect to the issue at hand.”
Between producing her own short-form documentaries and commercial projects with the likes of NBA star Steph Curry, she also runs photography workshops to pass on knowledge of visual storytelling. Since the beginning of her career, experiential education has been a key tenet of her photography ethos.
“It’s really important to me to put cameras in the hands of communities,” Tasha says. “Photography can be such a powerful tool to amplify voices.”
Her earliest workshops tackled the intersection of storytelling and social justice, and she now leads expeditions with National Geographic and other programs everywhere from Tokyo to Iceland.
A dream realized
Then six-year-old Tasha’s dream came true: she started working with National Geographic through leading their expeditions. In addition to leading multiple visual storytelling expeditions, she’s now working on her first feature-length documentary with one of their greatest explorers!
The subject of the documentary is a fellow Minnesotan: Will Steger, one of Nat Geo’s most accomplished polar explorers, and the first person to lead a dog sledding team from coast to coast in Antarctica.
Tasha grew up reading about Steger, and saw him as a role model in exploration and conservation, as well as a hometown hero. About seven years ago she saw him speak in person, and after introducing herself, began volunteering with his foundation. She began working on the feature-length documentary of his expeditions just two years ago.
Steger crossed the continent of Antarctica in 1989, spanning nearly 4,000 miles. At that time, he traversed the three largest ice shelves — all three of which have now disintegrated due to climate change. “His perspective is one of an explorer in the modern age — to not only have experienced many of history’s firsts, but to now be known for being the last.”
This project has been the fulfillment of a lifelong mission, and the one that has had the most personal impact on Tasha. “So many people think of Antarctica as a foreign, remote place that’s almost like another planet. I hope that by putting people at the center of the story, I can show the changes in Antarctica that are having a ripple effect on communities across the world.”
For more ladies killing it in their field, or to see Tasha’s ideal adventure road trip soundtrack, visit her her Lady Boss page: