When Claire Bangser first moved to New Orleans, she lived in a small cupboard under the stairs.
Well , not exactly.
But she actually did live in a closet at her friend’s apartment for six months. Luckily it was a spacious closet( it had a window !), and it only expensed a whopping $100 to rent.
Six years later, Bangser still calls New Orleans home . Much to her astonish, what started out as a simple visit to ensure friends was transformed into a love affair with a city she simply couldn’t leave — at the least , not for long.
After a brief trip abroad, one thing was certain: For Bangser, there was no place quite like New Orleans.
Inspired by the grit and charm of the city, she began diving deeper into the arts when she returned to NOLA .
A “creative wanderer, ” Bangser had first dabbled in stop-motion videos and graphic design, though she ultimately chose photography was her true calling. After all, she had fallen in love with the medium when she was just a kid after her grandfather showed her how to use his camera when she was about 12. She had even built a darkroom in her house to sustain her passion.
But it was while she was at a cafe in New Orleans with her friend that she thought of starting an Instagram account for her photography work . She was inspired by the popular series Humans of New York and wanted to create something of her own, something that captured what it was she loved so much about this city she now called home. So, she createdNOLA Beings.
Since then, Bangser has conducted thousands of interviews and captured countless photos of the person or persons she’s is in conformity with NOLA.
“I began employing my camera as an excuse to talk to people, ” she says . “There’s just so many characters down here that it’s hard not to be curious.”
Then, she’d publish the photos on the Instagram account for NOLA Beings alongside a telling quote from their conversation.
And from there, NOLA Beings changed Bangser’s life. Not only did she become a full-time photographer and storyteller, but it also transformed her relationship to the city.
The more she explored and talked with people one-on-one, the more she realise her original perception of the city was a very stereotypical one.
Like most, she knew about the fun celebrations, processions, beignets, and gumbo. But after living in New Orleans and having actual conversations with neighbours, she began to put together a sort of “patchwork quilt” of the city’s arousing diversity.
It’s a city rooted in a colorful history that centres around Africans, Native Americans, and European settlers from France and Spain. That myriad and exposure of cultures has strongly influenced everything from the architecture to the food.
So while working on NOLA Beings, Bangser wanted to make sure she was always working to do justice in telling the authentic narration of the city and its people.
“I feel like NOLA Beings various kinds of became my route of doing something for the city that was my little lens into the wild scope of wonderful, diverse narratives that existed here that were not the mainstream narrative, ” she said.
“It built me want to stay and are some of it. And it stimulated me want to contribute to it, ” Bangser adds.
She started setting aside time to focus solely on investigating the city and taking photos. “I truly believe that straying around this city is the most magical way to find your truth here, ” she explains.
A far cry from the closet where her journey began, she now finds that New Orleans is a city best experienced by sharing.
“I began to just see the wide range of characters and people who are coming from all over the place because something described them to the city, ” she explains .
Characters like Dale, the elderly black man and longtime resident of the Ninth Ward who she befriended and now regularly strolls with.
“He showed me and told me about what it used to be like there and actually painted a painting for me of what that neighborhood was like to him, ” Bangser says.
“I didn’t have the ability to see that neighborhood in the way that he considers it, ” she explains, “but he opened himself up to show it to me.”
And that’s what NOLA Beings is all about — offering glimpses into a city and the everyday people who make it so remarkable .
New Orleans is a possibility best known for the food, the lively galas, the music, and the architecture. But for Bangser, it’s the people she fulfils that construct New Orleans unforgettable.
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