KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A former East Tennessee high school Spanish teacher took a chance at a life-changing switch of careers putting down schoolbooks and picking up a camera. Her story of soaring success has her breaking barriers in the field of photography.

“Whatever you can dream, we’re in a place you know, the land of opportunity,” she says.

Nine years ago, Saray Taylor-Roman decided it was time to step out on faith.

“I was a high school Spanish teacher before and I always had a little foot in photography. I didn’t know that I could make a business out of it,” said Taylor-Roman.

Not only could she — but she would go from the classroom to an extraordinarily successful small business owner.

“Oh, it was difficult. I’m a first-generation immigrant. I’m also the first in my family to ever own a business,” she said. “And definitely, there are some patterns that, you know, are told to Hispanic women, that are in a way very traditional.”

But Taylor-Roman broke tradition and proved to her family she could do this. She is now the owner of Taylor-Roman Photography in West Knoxville. 

“Oh, they’re so proud. They are so, so proud, you know, but it was difficult just to not have somebody within the family or somebody that I knew to rely on. Thankfully, there was the Knoxville Entrepreneurship Center, and I went and took classes from them, and they helped me also draft my, my business plan.”

With a business plan in place, her studio work took off, her skills improved, and she created one-of-a-kind fantasy-style portraits. Taylor-Roman is an accredited Master Portrait Photographer. 

“So, I’ve reached Associate in 2018 and both Masters and Fellow, which is the highest. Right now, there’s about only 17 in the world with this accreditation level. And I’m one of them,” said Taylor-Roman.

Also, the first Hispanic to do so. The accolades kept mounting.

“I won first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, I skipped seventh. Then I made it an eighth, ninth, and several other ones,” she said.

Her contributions to the photography industry also mark another reason to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

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“Well, I think that it’s a wonderful way to just bring back the light to some people…that mean so much to this community. We work in so many different industries. We bring a warmth, I think, to this country,  some flavor and spiciness. You know, and I think that it’s important that it’s celebrated.”

And for her, it is celebrated one portrait at a time.

Taylor-Roman says the key to her success is mentorship. From the very beginning, she had another established photographer who guided and pushed her throughout her entire journey.