How do you go from student photographer at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to full-time newspaper photographer two months after graduation?
Olivia Ross did it and said it came down to three things:
- A combination of technical and soft skills she learned as a communication major
- An awesome mentor-professor, and
- Determination fueled by her passion for photography, which she discovered at UTC
“I was prepared to be in a newsroom and to make deadlines when I graduated,” said Ross, who worked at UTC’s student newspaper The Echo. She climbed the ranks from staffer to photo editor by fall 2021, the semester she graduated.
“Deadlines are more intense now…and nobody wants to hear your excuses for not meeting them, for not doing what you’re supposed to do,” said Ross, who shared her insights and work with a standing-room-only crowd at the University Center Auditorium Wednesday for Photo Night 2023.
The event featured photos from Ross and works by current UTC students alongside noted photographers including UTC alumna Kim Hubbard, whose resume includes staff photographer at National Geographic and senior photo editor at the White House.
The professional photographers chatted about their craft and career paths on stage with Billy Weeks, who teaches photojournalism in the Department of Communication and its popular student-led documentary class and online publication Rising Rock.
Ross said Weeks, a longtime photographer at the Times Free Press himself, was her most influential professor and mentor at UTC.
Weeks is clearly popular with his current students, judging by their boisterous applause for him at Photo Night.
He not only inspired Ross to pursue photography—starting in his Photojournalism 101 class her sophomore year—Weeks actually gave her the tip about the job she ultimately scored.
The portfolio Ross presented to her future employers was relatively small but stellar thanks to her class assignments and work at The Echo. She said she also accepted nearly every invitation from Weeks to join him on assignment, both on and off campus.
“I pushed myself to go photograph anything while I was a student to build my portfolio,” she said. I was also really determined to get the job.”
Senior Seth Carpenter, a former classmate to Ross and fellow Echo photographer, said he hopes to follow in her footstep. Like Ross, Carpenter said he can’t help but spend all his time outside of class making photographs and considers Weeks one of his greatest inspirations and supporters.
“Wherever I can get a job—and if that’s Colorado—I’m packing my bags and going,” said Carpenter.
He describes his passion for photography like many of the professional and student photographers at Photo Night.
“I love storytelling through photographs. It’s exciting and connects you to your community. When I’m taking photographs I feel like I’m doing something important with my life.”