Photography & Art Insider: Tanya Ortega

TANYA ORTEGA: Photography & Art Insider


Tanya Ortega, Photographer and Founder of the National Parks Arts Foundation, discusses her career and the foundation’s unique artist-in-residence programs in national park units, on Big Blend Radio.

Born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Tanya Ortega comes from a family who ran Indian Trading Posts. She started to work in National Parks as a teenager, studied both Art and Geology in college, and has degrees in Fine Arts and Museum Studies, as well from Sotheby’s Christie’s and the International School. She has travelled and photographed all over the world, and has been an Artist in Residence in many locations including Chaco Canyon and the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah. Tanya has also studied and worked as a curator with NODE, the Center for Curatorial Studies in Berlin, and has been a consultant to the National Parks of Brazil, Japan and England. With the National Parks, she is certified as a Certified Interpretive Guide with the National Association for Interpretation, the agency that certifies most of the nation’s Park Interpretive Rangers.

After working for her family business spearheading the complete restoration and refurbishment of the Death Valley’s Stovepipe Wells, Beach Clubs in Long Island, New York, Muir Woods in California, Volcano House at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, among many others, Tanya was inspired to start the National Park Arts Foundation (NPAF) the only nationwide resource for Artists’ Residences and Workshops in the National Parks. Currently with over 100 programs and always expanding, NPAF is the center of Tanya’s output as curator, fundraiser, and organizer. The foundation has received NEA grants as well as crucial support from the top philanthropy organizations all over the US. Tanya currently splits her time between Hawaii and Santa Fe, New Mexico, when she’s not interviewing National Parks who apply to the NPAF programs. Learn more about NPAF at

So what does it take to be a successful in the world of art and photography? Listen to our Big Blend Radio discussion with Tanya Ortega and read her answers to our 10 Photography Insider Questions about her career, including the challenges she faces, as well as her inspirations.

1. What led you to a career in the film/photography/art industry?

I was 15 and had been sent to England under an acting scholarship to study Shakespeare. I had been given a Nikon camera for my birthday and took photos of the actors and actresses in the West End. (This is when the West End was the place to be). Upon my return to the States, my stepmother had surprisingly and secretively entered my photos from a small southwest town into the State Fair. I was surprised to have won a lot of awards in the “adult” category, when they had mistaken me for an adult.

2. What attributes do you have that make you a good fit for being successful in film/photography/art?

Not caring what I must do to get the photo I want.

3. Who or what inspires you?

August Sanders is probably my favorite photographer… that’s the “who”. What inspires me is being able to see through photography and film differently than what you would normally see… the interpretation I suppose.

4. Describe your ideal viewing audience.
I do not care about an audience.

5. What do you think about the photography / film / art industry of today?
I love that people think that the more tools we have makes a larger, better group of photographers (or artists for that matter). When in truth, the number of “good” artists is the same.

6; What personal changes have you had to make in order to build your career?
I have risked being able to devote my time to revenue generating endeavors.

7. What do you consider your biggest challenge?
People who know my work and pressure me into “production”. The truth is that being able to make opportunities for other artists (who may be far better than me) is incredibly rewarding.

8. If you could invite any three people (alive or passed on) for a dinner party who would they be?
Leonard Cohen, Laurie Anderson, Christopher Alexander and Dave Hickey, and maybe Doris Duke. (One of these people, I did invite to dinner… it was great!)

9. If you could switch careers for a day, what would you choose?
Toll booth operator.

10. What is the most important tip you would pass on to another person just getting started in the world of film/photography/art?
Don’t do it for the audience.

National Parks Arts Foundation


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About the Author:

Tanya has traveled and photographed all over the world, and has been an Artist in Residence in many locations including Chaco Canyon and the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah.

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