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.
"I'm a native, die hard, getting ready to move and can't even leave the same zip code. I'm a registered nurse by old school profession. Now I volunteer and have fun and go to festivals. I think about world peace."
"What are you proud of?"
"That I'm still here. I'm a cancer survivor. I had to learn how to walk again by the grace of God. So I've been on both sides of the bed, as a nurse and as a patient. I had trained so many people that were attending to me. Oh yeah, I trained 'em. I even taught 'em how to drive! I got on my feet and am self-sufficient again. [I tell people] just think positive, wake up every day, take a deep breath, and put one foot in front of the other. Every day is a blessing."
"I was new in town - had literally just moved here a week before. I didn’t know anybody and had just moved down for a job from Michigan. I met her online, started talking. I told her I knew nothing about the city and she offered to show me around a little bit."
"The best part is that it almost didn’t happen. Because on his way over [to meet me for the first time], his phone died and he couldn’t find the place. So I was waiting around inside Avenue Pub and he couldn’t figure out where to go. So eventually he found a plug on the side of a building to plug his phone in, and it turned out it was Avenue Pub that he was plugged into!”
“I looked up and saw the big sign and was like - this is perfect! [...] That was 2 years ago. We met, we dated for about four or five months, had our baby, and got married, and have made a home here in New Orleans.”
"She was like 'Alright, 2016, it's time. You're about to turn your tassels.' They called my name and I walked across the stage - just a casual walk.
But then when everybody was leaving, everybody was hugging each other and I was like 'Dang, I wish my brother was here.' I just started crying. Everybody was like 'Cheer up, you made it,' stuff like that. But it wasn't just tears of sadness, I was happy too. Not a lot of people made it. My friend, he just graduated and he got killed yesterday morning. That was sad. I'm happy I made it out - got to graduate. Whatever comes my way, I hope I get to travel a lot and meet new people. I just want to do some amazing stuff with the rest of my life. And I'm excited about college."
Note: It's a bit unconventional, but I had to share (with permission) this beautiful image of Lou and his dad, snapped by one of Lou's mentors on his graduation day. Lou has been apprenticing with NOLAbeings for the better part of the last year, and has brought so much insight, skill, and enthusiasm to the project. UNO is lucky to have him coming their way in the fall. Congratulations Lou and all of the recent graduates. We are proud of you and we are with you.
"I've been here since I was 17 so my entire adult context has been New Orleans. It's been confusing figuring out how I play into the role of the city. Am I helping by being here or am I hurting? When I moved here it was 2008, it was three years after Katrina. People had really just started coming back. Things had started reviving. And so I was very much here at a time where people were like 'Yes! People are coming back! We didn't know if this would happen and you're here and that's so important. Don't leave!' It was this environment of rebuilding. Ten years later, it's a different conversation. It's less optimistic and more skeptical. That's been really confusing while I'm trying to find myself and also wanting to be a positive force. I'm very conscious about my role at every step."
"How does that play into your day to day life?"
"I guess in a lot of ways it closes me. I'm like 'I know my place.' I live in the Treme and I'm not going to go to every local bar and think that I can just because I live there. I'm very conscious that it's not [all] for me. But is that good or is it bad? Should I participate more or should I know my place? It's an interesting dichotomy."
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.