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 going through a really tough time. I had been trying to start a business and my work situation wasn’t really working out at all. And my personal life was just a mess. I wasn’t there emotionally. I had a lot of deaths of relatives and friends who had passed the year before and so I was just working through that and trying to get through that. She found me in a weird spot one day… I was in my bathroom just freaking out. And she just kind of came to me and held me. I remember for the first time in my life, as a man, as someone who has had to stand up on their own and defend my own identity – it was the first time I felt guarded and safe and protected. She just did that without me asking for it.”
“He told me he loved me in a blanket fort that we’d made in his room. Radiohead was playing. We’ve been together ever since. Every day. It was weird because I thought boys were gross before I met him – but he’s just a really beautiful person. He’s kind of just like the sun. He shines so bright and he brings so much joy and makes people feel so happy.”
“I got a phone call from my wife and she was actually in the middle of the tornado on Chef since she was on her way home. So she had to stop and then once it passed through she made it here – me and her made it here at the same time and… that was it. Now we have to move – we’re homeless – have to live in a hotel. […] I always used to watch this stuff on TV – never think you’ll be in the middleof it. It’s unbelievable. I’ve been staying here like 3 years. There’s six of us – four kids, my wife and me.
The most important thing that will probably stand out to me [later on] – I’ll think of the friends and family that’s here to help me, you know? In your time of need. I’ll think of the people that came and helped, and not just said they were gonna help, but actually showed up and helped.”
“I lost everything. I went to work thinking I was going to come back to my house. And my neighbor called me and told me that my house – that a tornado had just taken it away. That I didn’t have anything left. And I’m just numb. I don’t know what to say. I’m waiting on insurance people and it’s just, it’s hard. I don’t have a house. No one was home, thank God. When I got here yesterday, this is howit looked – no roof, no front, no back. Everything everywhere. I was in this house for about 16 years. I lived here with my husband and my daughter. I’m just tired and I’m aggravated and I haven’t had the strength to talk to nobody. I’ve never been exposed to something like this. You see the people on TV, but until it actually actually really happens to you, it’s like – oh my god. But I know God is able to see me through this and to live another day, because I’m living. I will see better days.”
“My grandmother was a person that do everything from scratch. Homemade biscuits and pancakes and cornbread and fresh bread out the oven and stuff. She taught me how to do a lot of little stuff. I remember when I first learned how to make pralines. I was like about 10. You know I’m short, I’m not that tall. So when I was 9 or 10 I was a little short thing. I used to tell her ‘I wanna learn how to make pralines.’ And she said ‘You’re not tall enough to be stirring the pot on top the stove!’ So she said ‘Get that lard can over there!’ So I was standing on top of a lard can when I first started making pralines. Now they call me the Praline Lady.”
“We was pretty much raised around horses – we have a barn right here in the 7th ward. They have one in the east. They have barns all over. We had family and friends around the barns and cousins, and [when we were kids] they pretty much just threw us on horses and told us to go for what we know, you know?”
“This is Oreo and that’s Apache. The horses teach you to have respect for ’em. And you find yourself too because when you first get up there, you’re scared. So once you overcome that fear, you kind of learn something about yourself. You can put that fear aside and just go for it.”
“You feel like you can tackle anything in the world once you train a 1800 pound animal!”