Andrea McClain has never met Britney Spears. But incredible twists of fate would mysteriously unite the 50-year-old part-time photographer from Ohio with one of the world’s most famous pop stars.
“My daughter, who’s a huge fan of hers, was just like, ‘Mom, I can’t believe this. Britney Spears shared your photo on her Instagram page,’” McClain said.
Since then, the singer has posted at least 14 of McClain’s pictures — most recently on Monday, when she announced to the world that she is expecting a baby with her partner, personal trainer Sam Asghari. Paired with the announcement was a still-life photo featuring a delicate pink teacup and carnations.
Sandwiched between the well wishes were fans wondering about the choice of photo. For years, Spears’s followers have dissected her Instagram page, convinced that her photos, videos, captions and occasional memes hold hidden messages.
The scavenger hunt reached a peak during the height of the #FreeBritney movement, when the star was still under a 13-year-long conservatorship following a series of highly publicized mental health breakdowns in 2008. The legal arrangement was terminated by a Los Angeles judge in November, but the fans’ guessing game often dominated the conversation on the singer’s Instagram page, including when Spears shared McClain’s photos.
During her conservatorship, throughout which Spears said she was forced to keep in a pregnancy-preventing IUD, the singer shared a photo McClain shot of three flowers, two antique keys and a white butterfly. One follower commented, “She feels locked in,” while another asked, “Is she in prison?”
McClain, a self-taught hobby photographer, has no idea how Spears discovered her work. She doesn’t get paid when the singer posts her photos but said she has seen a boost in her Instagram followers, gaining some 3,000 after Spears’s pregnancy announcement.
Based in Mansfield, Ohio, the town where she was born and raised, McClain often finds inspiration in nature. For her shoots, she gathers fresh-cut flowers from her garden and antiques from her personal collection. Then she “puts some music on, gets in the mood and starts creating,” she said, adding that her playlist includes an eclectic mix of rock-and-roll and country.
The result is a collection of romantic-looking pictures that McClain said have been featured in “a few book covers and greeting cards.” Her images, which she sells to a stock photo agency called Arcangel, can be bought online through her Etsy page or in a local Mansfield store.
Although the oft-symmetric compositions — featuring peonies and buttercups contrasted with old keys, cameras and mirrors — evoke a feeling of serenity, the last couple of years haven’t been easy for McClain.
She stopped teaching preschool to take care of her father. When he died, McClain’s husband inspired her to stay home to work on projects that brought her joy, like photography. She built up a following on Instagram and began selling prints on Etsy.
But during the pandemic, her husband died, too. In grief, McClain put her camera down.
“It was such a hard time for me, and I just didn’t feel much like being creative,” she said.
This year, however, McClain was ready for a change.
“I’m proud to finally get back to the things that I love to do, and Britney’s post — well, it just meant the world that so many people were able to see my work,” she said.
Perhaps no one is more elated than her 27-year-old daughter, McClain said. She and Spears share the same name — and its spelling — out of pure coincidence. Perhaps, it was a “magical” foreshadowing of the indirect way in which the two women’s lives would be indirectly intertwined, McClain said.
“When you’d buy stuff with people’s names on it in those gift shops and stuff, my daughter complained that they’d never have her name spelled right,” she said. “Then when Britney became famous, I bought her like a little necklace that finally got her name right. It was all Britney.”
McClain said she appreciates that the singer credits her for her work.
“I sent her a direct message through Instagram congratulating her on the baby, and I always thank her when she shares one of my photos,” McClain said. “But I’ve never heard back.”