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 granddaughter called me up one day, she said ‘Famor, I was just thinking, since you’re so dark, I think maybe you need to do something with your hair in color.’ I said 'Well, what are you thinking?' She said, ‘Well, right now my hair is pink.’ And I said ‘Yeah, but you live in London and y’all are wild and crazy.’ She said ‘No I want you to try this. Since you’re royalty and purple is your favorite color, you should try purple.’ […] I tell you from the minute I got my hair done, all of the ladies in the shop said ‘I wish I had enough guts to do that!’ I said ‘You can! What’s stopping you? You worried about what people say?’ You got to please yourself first! Who cares?!"
“A lot of people are interested in what race I am. Everyone guesses Filipino, [but] my father is Dominican and my mom’s Vietnamese."
"Do you feel like those cultures have influenced your identity?"
“I think so. People really want you to take the side of one. I didn’t grow up like everyone else. I had both sides - two totally different cultures. I’d say I appreciate things more because my parents told me how they grew up so I know I have stuff handed to me and they had to earn everything they have now. […] Other than my dad I’m the first one in my family to go to college.”
“I’m starting to feel like I don’t care about the exposure. I’d almost rather crawl into a hole and not let anybody know that I’m a photographer, and then when I die they can find all my negatives under my bed and be like ‘Woah!’ - like Vivian Maier. That’s so romantic to me. I just feel like it gets really competitive and stressful. It really messes with my head and I feel like I have a constant identity crisis with who is taking advantage of what. […] I want to work like an anthropologist who is preserving culture so these images can be seen in a museum, rather than selling them to some magazine that doesn’t really care just so tourists can come down and gawk."
"I mime for the church. When people are going through something, my job is to show them that everything is going to be alright - mimicking the words with strong movements, so they gonna feel it. […] You telling a story to someone else that it’s gonna be alright, but you’re also telling yourself. It goes through you to them. I’m getting tingly just thinking about it."
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.