Finding a person more excited about living in Cleveland than Sara Renee would be a challenge worthy of a town teaming with appreciative residents for their “City With Spirit.” Renee, a world traveler with a cosmopolitan character, makes no apologies about being in love with her adopted community.
Born in South Carolina, the 27-year-old saw sights growing up that only children with military moms and dad got to see so often. Renee said she has no memory of her birthplace but decided to live in the one place she was least familiar with.
“I graduated high school in Germany and moved from Germany to the South for the first time in my life. I had lived all over, but never in the South,” she said. Moving to Cleveland in 2004 to attend Lee University, Renee embraced the city with its rural scenery, unpretentious people and easygoing lifestyle for which Bradley County is famous. But there was one problem.
“I couldn’t understand the people,” Renee admits about encountering the occasional thick Southern accent. “At first I couldn’t handle it. I hated it. I got a job at Walgreens. A guy came in and asked, ‘Hey! Where are your ladders?’ I said, ‘We don’t have ladders. But we have step stools and if we do they’re on Aisle 8.’ He said, ‘You don’t have ladders?’ I was like, ‘No. We’re a drugstore. We don’t have ladders.’ He was getting really irate. So, I said, ‘I don’t understand why you’re so upset. Check Aisle 8 for a step stool.’ He storms off, comes back a few seconds later and throws a (cigarette) lighter on the counter and says, ‘Lighter!’
“I thought it was so funny! He didn’t think it was funny. That summed up my first three or four months in Cleveland. It was so funny! Now I love it here! I didn’t have a car or driver’s license when I first moved here so I walked everywhere — all over downtown and to places I would probably never go to alone now. I would just walk, walk, walk — even at night.”
The more she got familiar with Cleveland, the more Renee found herself falling in love with the area and its people. Becoming a photographer to capture the sights that impacted her was an idea that solved two challenges in her life — her reclusive behavior and her desire to be self-employed.
“I actually started taking pictures because I was so antisocial,” Renee admits. “I bought a camera at a local store and started taking pictures. Then I went to photo school after I graduated from Lee. As I was trying to figure out where to start my life — because my dad was in the military and we moved so much — I didn’t have a ‘hometown.’ The four years I lived here (while at Lee) was the longest I had lived anywhere. So I’d come back to Cleveland during spring break when I was in photo school and take pictures everyday to build my portfolio.”
Photographing weddings in such a social setting had a lot to do with her growing out of being antisocial, according Renee. She said one morning she woke up and noticed something different about her face when she looked at herself in the bathroom mirror.
“I had huge creases in my face, around my mouth, from smiling,” she said. “I got closer to the mirror and said to myself, ‘I must really like it here! I’m going to move back here!’ And then I did. I’ve been here ever since, other than six months in Nashville. But now I’m HERE, here. Bought a house, have a husband, got a puppy (last week). She’s the cutest little thing — a basset, mixed with a boxer and Lab.”
Renee also owns her own business, The Adventures of Sara Renee Photographer, where she prefers to shoot outdoors with natural lighting, not in a studio with backdrops.
Her husband, Adam Clark, works for Best Buy Metals in Cleveland. When asked how they met, Renee responded, “He was a glee club boy and I was a goth rock girl, so we were very different! I always had a crush on him. We met at Lee but did not start dating until five years later. He was from Vermont. Before Germany, I lived in Rhode Island. I love New England. ”
With little more than a Northern proximity in common, the two found enough mutual interests to discover why opposites attract, and fell in love. They married May on 31, 2013.
Having settled down in Cleveland, Renee said she wanted to express her appreciation for The City with Spirit in a special way. She and local hairstylist Victor Bracero are partnering to launch a Faces of Cleveland project where they will select, style and photograph some of Cleveland’s iconic faces at no cost. The collection will be displayed later.
“I love Cleveland so much! This is kind of like saying, ‘Thank you!’” Renee said.