Editor's note: 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 photos.
“Tell me a memory from growing up in New Orleans."
“Me and Karen on the lakefront. We used to play house... Shit! Playing house with a girl, that’s my story. Is that vivid enough? 'Let’s play house. Honey, I’m home!' ...go to the playground and kiss the girls. I remember when I got my bike. Growing up in Pontchatrain Park was just great ‘cause we could just go anywhere and do anything - jump in the lagoon and ride our bikes around the golf course. I thought I discovered gold with my best friend John Harris in his backyard, just digging. 'Ohhh we discovered gold - don't tell nobody.' Put the dirt back. Every day we'd go dig it up again. It was just some sparkly something in the dirt and we thought it was gold! And then there was nothing like on a Friday night to blow out your hair with a blowout kit, get the hot comb and have a big afro like Michael Jackson and then get on your bike and ride and let it roll through your hair. That was big fun man. Come back and see the girls, say ‘what’s up how you doin’? Wanna go play house?’”
"I’m from Crowley and this is my first beginning to end Boucherie. I’ve never seen the whole process through and I never been involved in it. Today I was in it and it was mind-blowing. Toby let me grab the fucking pig and after he shot it and held it down I was rubbing it like it was my dog, putting it to sleep. And the prayer was read and it was so emotional for me. There was tears - I was hiding ‘em but it was there. I wish every single person on the planet that eats meat could experience this. When he started reading the prayer, that Cajun French, that’s when it really came to fruition - the history. That this is a real thing. this isn’t something that somebody just set up on Facebook, it’s part of my heritage. It’s part of everybody’s heritage. This is what we do as human beings. It’s a respect that you raised this fucking animal, you sustained it and now it’s going to sustain you and everybody else. It sounds like a barbaric thing but it’s really not. It’s an important part of life. I think we’re really disconnected. We need to get back to seeing where the animal comes from, seeing how it died, and knowing that the animal you’re eating was a real fucking animal with eyeballs and a heartbeat and feet and ears and tails that wag. And it really really does make it more delicious."
“I am proud of my family – I have two kids and I finished school. I'm married and I went to school for cosmetology. I'm 23. In the future I hope to open my own salon so people can just come in and I can also rent out booths.”
“I do a lot of research on folklore and all these things I grew up seeing, just kind of exploring them more because I can see them better. One of the things that came up was just our veneration of Mary, South Louisianans' veneration of Mary. We still do it. And I think it’s just a beautiful thing so I like to document the statues people display in their yards - “yard grottos” or “bathtub Mary’s” or whatever they call them. I’m working on a book that is a collection of Mary statues from the Prairie des Femmes - the prairie near Arnaudville where my husband built our house by hand. Part of it is integrating people’s personal veneration, from seeing the way they paint the statues, the way they have gardens around the statues, things that they put at the statues’ feet. It’s all super personal and it’s something that I wanted to document and shine a little light on because I think it’s a good thing and, like our French, it might not be as common as it used to be. You see less and less as we build cookie-cutter houses in neighborhoods. You don’t see people putting up grottos like our grandparents did."
"I come from a family of traditions and that’s difficult at times. There’s always rules that people need to follow and they don’t understand why. I appreciate traditions a lot and so I understand it, but I kind of want to make my own." "What kind of traditions do you want to make for yourself?" "Specifically I’m not so sure, but Bill’s family has a set of traditions that develop and grow all the time and my family comes from traditions that - well we’ve been doing the same thing every year and we’ve HAD to do it every year and it’s like 'this is something your grandmother did and she would love it.' And my grandmother has been dead for a long long time. And she’s talked about like she’s alive. I love that in a way, where people don’t ever die and traditions don’t ever die. But combining two families, you need to make and evolve new traditions."
Claire Bangser is a New Orleans-based photographer and filmmaker with a passion for storytelling. She is the creator of NOLAbeings and has produced work for local, national, an international organizations and media since 2009. Highlights include a three-month bike tour storytelling project on the west coast, documentation for a four-month National Geographic Young Explorer’s grant in Turkey, and New Orleans-based digital storytelling projects like Cry You One and BOUDIN: The New Orleans Music Project. Find more of her work at www.clairebangser.com.