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’ve been coming to JazzFest at least maybe 20 years. I love the Gospel Tent. It’s always outstanding. It’s my favorite. If it wasn’t for my religious background, I don’t know where I’d be today. But God has brought me a mighty long ways, ’cause I was in Hurricane Katrina and Rita so I lost my house out there, and now I’m back, working my way back. So God has been definitely good to me. I love the people who are here. We socialize, we help each other, we reach out to each other. In a lot of states you go to – and I’ve been to a lot of states – they don’t do that. People don’t reach out to each other, and they don’t reach out to you with love and consideration. And that’s what I love about New Orleans. We always help each other.”
“It’s the craziest thing when people bully you for being too skinny, but it’s just like, in my community, you have to be a little thicker to be considered beautiful. I used to be bullied for that and bullied like ‘your hair is too thick, too nappy.’ So I used to sing and write music to get through all that. I would put my emotions out. [Music] got me through a lot. The gospel choir – that’s how I started out when I was younger – and now I endeavor in jazz, R&B, and just everything that I can get my hands on that sounds good in my opinion.
My dream is to become a musical theater singer. I’ve always wanted to sing. When I wake up, sometimes I think to myself that I am on stage in front of thousands of people. I envision it. I think that’s the first step of becoming somebody – you have to envision it in your mind.”
“I’m from here – born, bred, and will probably die here. I document the city of New Orleans. I’ve been doing this for 40 something years. I lost most of my photo work in Katrina but I’ve still got some now. I have stuff in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And I’m the only one that has a shot of Ray Charles without his glasses, that I took out here. It was hot and he wiped his brow. I took a shot. I got photos of Allen Toussaint and Bonnie Raitt, that’s in Bonnie Raitt’s trailer. The city needs to be documented so in the future, people will be able to see what it was like.
If you don’t worry about the future, it’s not going to ever happen. You’ve got to be positive about the future. Wouldn’t you like to know if somebody had a documentation of like, the Civil War? And had video of it – wouldn’t you enjoy that? People keep searching for the past. Whatever we document now, the future is going to look at that. What you’re doing now – people are going to look at years in the future and go ‘Wow, that’s what it was like back then!’ You know? Maybe something ‘back then’ will trigger something better for the future.”