Editor’s Note: 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.
“I was a workaholic. I could have ran track, but I sent myself through school. I went to school and I worked in the evenings to support myself. It wasn’t no big time jobs, just small jobs working in restaurants and stuff like that, that payed the minimum wage. Even when I was in high school, I did things for the experience. I went up to Michigan and picked cherries on a cherry farm. My mom allowed me to leave with one of my childhood friends to go. We didn’t make any money, but it was an experience that made me realize I wanted better than that in life. I’m in real estate now. I got my real estate license – started buying property and what have you.
I lost my house [in the Louisiana Flood] and I lost material things, but I have the strength to withstand those things. However bad you’re doing, somebody’s doing worse than you are. Good follows good, bad follows bad. I take negative things and try to look at the positive aspect of it. To me, this game makes me forget about everything else that’s going on.
I’ve got pictures in my phone of when I sit together [with the other team’s fans] and talk with them and socialize. If they lose, or if we lose, we still have fun. Some of them talk a lot of talk, but other ones are very friendly and hospitable. Everyone likes to win, winning feels good. But even a loser can still be a winner because they still enjoy a good game. You can’t win all the time. If you stay the course, things will get better for you.”
“I was born right here in New Orleans. Had four sisters. The most difficult part in life was getting into the bathroom. I could never get into the bathroom ’cause all my sisters would be in there. So I’d get up early before them and then they’d knock on the door and wait for me! So when I was in junior high and senior high school, I’d get to school for 6:30 in the morning, and that’s when I’d do my homework. I was able to get in the building because I’d get there when the janitors and the cafeteria ladies would get there. Most of the time, I’d get some hot bread or something. I loved school. I went to school a half day my junior and senior year, and I worked in the afternoon.
I went to Iraq during Desert Storm, in field artillery. Guns.
I’m surviving now. it’s ups and downs. I was living on the street, but they got me VASH housing through the VA and I’m working toward keeping it. I was at the rehabilitation center, and after I left there I went to work for St. Bernard Project. It was the end of my term – I did three terms – and I haven’t had a job since.
Two hours is the longest I stand out here. Sanity is communicating. That’s one of our skills that’s easy. One guy said, ‘Why should I give my hard-earned money to you?’ I said ‘That’s your money! I’m not asking you to give your money. Just talk to me. Have a conversation with me – make me feel good. Don’t use negative ways. Spread a little knowledge.’”
“If there was one thing that you’d want a bunch of strangers to know about you, what would it be?”
“That I can be the happiest person in the morning when everybody’s grouchy. I just keep a positive attitude.”
“Halloween is a part of the devil’s birthday and the devil likes to go around houses and get candy.”
“It is all about scary! Spookiness! And candy.”
“You could be a spooky judge.”
“What is your favorite halloween story?”
“Chucky… Hocus Pocus…”
“I was about to say that!”
“I wear this shirt every day… I have seven of them. One more thing I don’t have to decide on!”