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.
“This community is home. It’s family. When Katrina hit, I had just moved here. I got off from work and my neighbor came banging on the door. It wasn’t a normal knock on the door – this was more of a distress call. I thought, ‘Wow, someone is really trying to get my attention!’ So I jumped up out the bed and the neighbor said ‘The whole neighborhood is deserted. You have to leave.’ Now, believe it or not, I had just moved here. I had never met my neighbor! But he took that time to stop before he got in his car and drove on, to come and make sure I got out. And he said ‘We not going to leave until you get in your vehicle and we all ride out.’ I believe he saved me. If not, I would have still been in there sleeping.
But we came back and we rebuilt. And we gonna rebuild again. We not running away – this is home! This is where we live! This is where our heart is. This is where we have fun and we party and all the other people come in and party and have a good time. This is home.”
“I’m the systems administrator at Ochsner for the surgery department, so I do operational and financial analysis for the whole Ochsner system. I’m over there like, 9 to 5, suit and tie, you know? And then I get out on the parade route and wear heart sunglasses and dance with my friends. I don’t exactly hide my Stomper-ness [from my colleagues], but I’m not like ‘Hey guys I’m a Stomper!’ One time I got off work late during Mardi Gras. We were at the beginning of the parade, I couldn’t get there for the beginning. So I was literally in my Stomper gear, driving up – I parked on the parade route and I hopped out. They were marching. I ripped off my [normal clothes] – my basketball jersey – and ran into the parade. I was like Batman or Superman out of a phone booth! It’s really great to be out on the parade route and see your colleagues like, ‘Is that…?!?!!’ I love the moment when they put 2 and 2 together like, ‘oh my god.’”
“From growing up in New Orleans as a child, my parents used to come out early in the morning, before six o’clock in the morning, so we could get us a spot on Canal Street by Krauss – what used to be Krauss. My parents and uncles would park their cars and then they would have food and stuff like that in the back of the truck. I remember that. Now since I have my own kids, I like to prepare the food and get us a spot. We fry the chicken before we leave – sometimes we barbecue ribs. We just come out and have a good time – eat, drink and be merry.”
“I remember, it was around Halloween last year and I was walking around, and everything was great in New York – Halloween is great in New York. But gosh, there’s nothing like Halloween in New Orleans. I thought, ‘You know what? I need to go home and I need to go home for a good long time.’ I was homesick, you know? There’s no place like this in the whole wide world. So here I am.
[Just now] as I came over the railroad tracks on my bike, I was kind of on my own… I was looking around. And riding around the corner, I saw all these people, heard this music… I just had this amazing feeling of homecoming.”