Created Local Instagram Series: @sarah__maria_____...

Sarah McClean

Created Local Instagram Series: @sarah__maria________

In the twenty seventh edition of our special features celebrating our favourite south coast based Instagram users, we catch up with Sarah McClean (@sarah__maria________).

Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Born in the east end of London, I moved with my parents and siblings to various places along the A3 until we settled in Portsmouth in 1980. I’ve lived here ever since and raised my own family here. I’ve always had an interest in art and have dabbled in a variety of media over the years. I studied arts and humanities with the Open University and often had jobs in creative environments but always in supportive roles rather than as the ‘creator or artist’. I often felt like an observer, an outsider looking in and over the years struggled with mental health issues. It was a combination of three things that led me to photography: attending an arts therapy course with an amazing and inspirational teacher, Jon Cooke, who helped me change my perspective on life and art, reading ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes which helped me understand the importance of always being true to, and giving time to, your creativity and a walk along Southsea beach, alone one evening, and witnessing the most beautiful sunset that I just felt compelled to share but didn’t have a camera to do it justice, nor an interested audience. That was 18 months ago.

Sarah McClean

Can you tell me more about your photographic experience; is this something that you’ve studied or maybe a hobby that you’ve developed?
A couple of days after the sunset experience, I bought a second-hand DSLR, a Nikon 3100, for £100. I didn’t have a clue how to use it and it sat in my drawer for a couple of months whilst I used my iPhone camera. I tentatively joined Instagram started getting inspiration and wanting to join in and on 1 January 2018 decided I was going to give myself a year to properly explore photography and commit to taking at least one photo I liked and post it on Instagram each day, preferably of a different location or style, with a view to improvement. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along mostly from a lot of trial and error, occasional YouTube video and support from other Instagrammers. I then bought a second hand Nikon D800 with various lenses, tripod and filters, for a bargain, and I’ve been loving the journey ever since.

Do you have a favoured camera or device that you use for your Instagram photography?
I love my Nikon D800 and I take it everywhere with me, despite it weighing a tonne! I will use my iPhone camera occasionally for convenience.

Sarah McClean
Sarah McClean

Exploring the theme of local, the south coast has a wide variety of climatic conditions, buildings and landscapes. Are there any places or environments that are personal to you or that you love to photograph?
I think Portsmouth is an ideal location. We have it all really: sea, city and countryside all within easy access. Because my earliest memories are of living in rural areas I always feel at home when I visit and explore the English countryside and the South Downs Way is a particular favourite. I have walked, photographing as I go, for hours at a time, totally lost in each moment. I also love the perimeter of Portsea Island, walking Pip (my little Dachsund x Pug puppy) along the shorelines is delightful and ever-changing. No two days are the same, simply because of the changing weather and light. I also find a lot of inspiration from nature and my little garden. Photography has helped me see things in a different way and everything and everywhere is a source of inspiration these days.

For you what makes a good photograph stand out?
This is a difficult one to answer. I think overall my favourite images are ones that leave something to the imagination and convey a certain mood or have an air of mystery. Images that make you stay and look, much as a Rothko painting would, in which you discover layers of skill or meaning. It’s all subjective.

Would you say that you take photos more for yourself or for others?
Because I’m still learning I guess I always take photos for myself, all of my art is for myself and mostly about myself: where I am, what I’m doing, how I’m feeling, what I like, where I am in my creative journey. It’s always a bonus when other people appreciate it though and at times when I’ve struggled with the ‘why’ of the process it can be the input of others, either supportive or critical that has fuelled me to carry on. When I’m confident enough in my abilities as a photographer I’d like to turn it around, be less selfish and start telling stories about other people, places and situations.

Sarah McClean

Are there any other photographers who either influence you or that you would encourage our readers to also check out?
I’ve found loads of inspiration on Instagram, one local photographer I follow whose work I love is @ubar22, his work captured my imagination straight away.

I’m always blown away by the photography art of @grantsimonrogers, who is a real gent as well. Another favourite is @fivearchitects, I even have a couple of his photos on my wall at home. In fact, if I could fill my house with the photography of these three I’d be very happy. For raw honesty and because she lives and conveys the creative/life struggle so beautifully I admire @ezmeraldaglass.

For portrait photography and because he encourages dialogue around mental health @portrait_per_day is another favourite.

I joined a fantastic group of local photographers and we’ve been out on photo walks together and have become friends. They are all equally enthusiastic as I am about photography and very talented, they inspire and support me every day, they all deserve a shout out @milk_onesugar, @christinematchett, @lizzie_l_barrett, @_annachalk, @l1sam, @sarahmarston, @sue_woodbridge_photography as does @jon_tyrrell and @johnnyblackuk who are both so generous in support and sharing knowledge. In fact, everyone I follow on Instagram inspires me in one way or another.

If you would like to get involved or know of a photographer that you think should be on our radar then please drop me an email at stuart@strong-island.co.uk.


  1. Grant Simon Rogers

    21 March

    Wonderful Sarah.

    It is fantastic to see your work develop. Blimey, has it only been a year? I am sure I speak for many others when I say Wow! You see something in a place that I singly failed to see for myself, beauty. When seeing it through your eyes, I can’t wait to return.

    Keep sharing the beauty

    GSR x

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