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.
“How did you meet?”
“I, you know, hit the DMs.” “OKCupid – an actual dating website.”
“We actually both made profiles and never used it. And you know how they keep emailing you? I went on to delete it and I saw her profile and was like ‘Oh, she’s cute. I’ll just DM her’ and then delete it. I DMed her and then I deleted it. So she saw my message and that I deleted my account and she still hit me up.”
“And then I deleted mine.”
“Guess we don’t need it anymore! So that’s how that happened.”
“I live on an old sailboat. It’s not amazing – it’s falling apart but it still works. I honestly can’t remember not being on a boat. My grandmother owned a boatyard in Lafitte and she ran it for like 30 years. And my dad was a Marine Corps officer, dear old Dad. Then the rest is the rest. I just love it and it works and there’s no mortgage and no nothing. […] There’s no grass to cut! Right now she’s anchored up on Bayou Lacombe which is a beautiful little bayou that runs into the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. So far so good!”
“Why are you playing a bagpipe in the neutral ground?”
“Seemed like a good neutral place, right? That or graveyards. You know I’m still learning, so I’m just muddling through what it’s supposed to sound like. I have no idea why I started. I wanted to play since I was 3, and I have a bunch of time now, so I’ve been sticking with it for 6 years. I suck. I muddle through compared to those girls and guys that start when they’re 8. But I’m not quitting.”
“We are dedicating this parade to our grandfather and our grandmother. They died recently, in September. My grandfather, he died from a tragic car accident and my grandmother died about three weeks later from a broken heart. So this is dedicated to them.
One thing my grandfather always told me and it stuck with me to this day, and at his funeral my Uncle Wayne said these very same words. He always said, ‘Grandson, do the right thing. No matter the consequence, no matter the repercussions, no matter the outcome. Do the right thing. You live by that, you will succeed in life.’ It comes back to me all the time in my daily walk. Of course, we all battle with our struggles, but at the same time, it sticks in my mind. I hear him say ‘Do the right thing, boy!’ Ha! He did have a real big impact on us. He was a loving man. Everybody loved him. Everybody knew him. Everybody respected him.”
“I used to be a nurse for two years. I was a registered nurse at Charity Hospital, and then I quit that and became a letter carrier because I like the daytime jobs. I was working nights at Charity Hospital. Now I get the chance to meet new people. I can be outside, I don’t have no boss all over my back. I have a chance to think and just walk and enjoy life. And it goes by fast.”