Multimedia artist Claire Bangser created NOLAbeings as a portrait-based story project that marries image and text. Inspired by the Humans of NY project, it stems from the belief that we can all learn from one anothers' stories. Primarily featured on Instagram (and tumblr), Claire meets people in coffee shops, grocery stores, living rooms, sidewalks, and learns something about each individual through a snapshot conversation and image. After discovering and falling in love with the project, editors at NolaVie asked to post a weekly roundup of her most visually and narratively stimulating photos.
"My big master breakthrough was when I went to this conference and saw this amazing cultural critic Imran Siddiquee speak, and he gave this presentation and was like, 'What must it feel like for a young girl of color to grow up and never see herself loved in the media?' And all I could do was cry. [...] You grow up and you watch film and it's sort of like a little voice in your head that none of these people are like you - unless you get glimpses of black media or media with more people of color. But you find a way to empathize with white men. You're like, 'Oh yeah, I'm this way just like Pony Boy from The Outsiders, because we both love our friends'... you learn to see segments of yourself in other people. I think empathy is a two way street and I think women and people of color have a lot of empathy to see the world through a white male lens. I think that we need to flip that and have more diverse stories so that people can see the world through other lenses. And that's a real way to change, you know?"
"When I was in third grade I started thinking about how boring our shoes are, so I started painting my shoes, kind of like cars with racing stripes and eyeballs and all those things. Then I started painting on my pants, then on my shirts. It was a Catholic school, so there were no art classes! So I would sit there at my desk and I would have my little drawing pad during every class - every single class - whether it was religion or English or math - I'd just be drawing and drawing and drawing. They put me in the closet, I drew in the closet. I was kind of addicted to doing this. Of course everyone wanted to get in a fight with me - I'd get hassled all the time for doing what I wanted to do. So gradually I've figured out a way to be who I am and do what I want to do without being hassled. "
"How's My Hair?"
"I just turned 30. You know, there's like a list of things that you want to get done by 30. I feel like there are some things that I really wanted to do that I haven't done, but then there's other things that I've surpassed. I thought I would have my own place by now, thought I'd be married. That part can be hard. It kind of worries me that I haven't started the process. I don't have a boyfriend, I haven't met the guy. So I'm like, if I want this, could it even happen? But then, I didn't think I'd already be a producer at this age. I'm a producer for BET and I didn't even think that was possible until like, 35. It's so weird - life just kind of happens. Some things go faster than you want and then other things go slower. I think everything happens when it's supposed to."
"I just want to make it in life."
"What does 'making it' mean to you?"
"The system is built for us to fail - I mean black people. They put us in places, they label us like we can't make it, like we can't do this and that. Like, 'They're no good, they're not able to work for nothing.' And I just want to override that system and prove them wrong."
Claire Bangser is a New Orleans-based freelance photographer and short filmmaker, and founder of the Roots and Wings Creative. Her work – spanning commercial and editorial projects – is centered around telling human stories powerfully. In February 2014, she started the popular New Orleans street portrait project NOLAbeings. Since then, her work has been featured by a wide range of media, including National Geographic, The New York Times, TIME, Wired, Glamour, Vox, Amazon’s DP Review, Le Parisien Magazine and New Orleans Magazine. Claire leads trips every summer for National Geographic Student Expeditions, where she teaches filmmaking and photography to high school students abroad.