Paige Ivey Evatt didn’t study photography in college at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, much less while in law school.
She’d been working as an attorney in Chattanooga, her hometown, for six years when she decided in 2018 that a career change was in order.
A few months later, Evatt, who graduated from UTC in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and women’s studies, transitioned from an officer of the court to a “creative entrepreneur.”
She now makes her living photographing people celebrating life, primarily weddings. But she also shoots intimate portraits and works with local companies on photography for their brands.
“It’s all about getting a feel for people and matching their energy and seeing where they’re at and making time to make them feel comfortable,” she said, “and if they’re comfortable, they’ll like the photos.
“There are so many ways people present themselves online. It’s not just one website but a whole social media package they’re going for.”
Evatt earned her law degree from Faulkner University in Alabama in 2011. When she was a legal aid attorney, she spoke to students in the introduction to political science course at UTC once a semester.
And now that she’s switched careers, she’s found a new way to share her latest professional passion with fellow Mocs.
In March, she shot portraits of students for a Women’s History Month event sponsored by the Center for Women and Gender Equity.
“I’ve been involved in the women’s center since I was a student myself,” said Evatt.
She spent about 15 minutes with each student, starting with icebreakers to determine why the student wanted a headshot and what the photograph was supposed to convey.
Most students said they sought “professional-looking” photos for their LinkedIn profiles or other career-oriented purposes.
“I like to get them talking about something they’re passionate about,” Evatt said. “That will give me clues about their goals and their personality in order to highlight who they are as a person and their talents and what they might bring to the profession they’re pursuing.”
She balances realism and professionalism to give each portrait a sense of authenticity.
“Employers want to see that part of you which doesn’t always come through in a static headshot or with your arms folded, standing in front of a bookcase,” she said.
Evatt broke into commercial photography in her mid-30s with no formal training. She enjoyed the support of her husband—who bought her first professional camera in early 2019—and a can-do-anything-I-want attitude.
With a head for business, Evatt built a thriving enterprise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her company, Ivey Photo, turned three years old in March.
“I actually got in at the perfect time because there were so many people to accommodate because of all the rescheduling,” she said.
Her second career was inspired by her own wedding photographer.
“Ten years later, we still love our wedding photos so much, so to be able to do that for other people is great,” she said. “It’s the best. I get to live in someone else’s dream world. Even a stressful wedding is not as bad as court.”
She feels freer and more creative in her new profession but doesn’t regret going to law school and becoming a legal aid attorney. She’s more financially successful as a photographer, although chasing wealth doesn’t drive her career goals.
“I didn’t practice the kind of law where you’re making tons of money. I went to law school with the notion of wanting to help people,” said Evatt, who maintains her license to practice law in Tennessee as a financial fail-safe. “When I made the decision to go to law school, it was a good decision. It’s a license. It’s an insurance policy I have for myself and for my family.”
Evatt has two sons, 8-year-old Tate and 3-year-old Stone. Her husband, Tyler—who earned two bachelor’s degrees from UTC and switched careers himself from criminal justice to engineering—encouraged her to take the professional leap after their second son was born, but he also knew “I wasn’t at all scared.”
A first-generation college student, she tackled both undergraduate college and law school on her own.
“I had family support, of course, but I’m a big believer in manifesting and making goals for yourself,” she said. “I love the saying, ‘A goal is a dream with a deadline.’”
Merely setting a goal with a timeline does not a success make, Evatt said. She takes time each month to examine the successes and failures of her small business. She celebrates and builds upon new contracts with the same fervor as spotting missed opportunities and extracting lessons from mistakes.
“You have to be honest with yourself,” Evatt said.
“If you put the work in, the money comes out, especially as an entrepreneur. If you’re good to people, it will come back to you. People will open doors for you and move mountains for you if you bring joy to what you do and treat people well.”