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.
“My mama didn’t expect the flood, but I did. I told her, ‘We need to put everything up.’ She was like, ‘If you that worried about it, put what you think you need to put up on the top bunk,’ so I did. I saved a lot of my baby pictures, and the pictures of my grandma, because my grandma died when I was six. I saved my stuffed animals, because I’m very close to my stuffed animals. I saved my books, I’m a big reader. I love books, and I don’t like my books getting messed up. I saved some of my clothes, too. I was running around, because the water started coming up a lot faster than we expected it to. My god mama came to get us from the other side of town, which only took her about 15, 20 minutes. By the time she got there, the water was up on her tires. We barely got out, because we were still trying to move everything, get our animals in the car and get our cars out.
I lived by myself after that for about four or five months because I still wanted to go to Baton Rouge High. I had been trying to get into that high school my whole life, you know, it was my dream school. My mama had to move across the river because she was pregnant, and my stepdad stays across the river, so I was by myself buying my own food. I got myself up for school every morning, by myself, and put myself to bed every night. I was 15. I ended up getting homesick. I wanted my mama. So I ended up moving back with her and switching schools. My whole life has been hard, so it was just a new situation but not a new feeling, you know? I’m pretty good at switching my devastation into something more positive. You can’t change the past. You really can’t. All you can do is make your future the best possible. I come from poverty and hurt, and I want to be better than that. There are times when I really want to give up, but I won’t allow myself to. You don’t give yourself excuses to quit. Every excuse you have to quit is another excuse for you to do better.”
Jacob: “I was living with a friend during the flooding in Baton Rouge and we were on safe ground, but a lot of my dad’s side of the family was wiped out. A lot of people came to town and helped them, from re-building to bringing meals and all that. The support was endless and lots of people came from New Orleans. I’ve been loving Brandon’s art and his movement for a long time, and now we are finally able to do something right and create positivity after these tragedies.”
Brandan: “New Orleans and Baton Rouge are right next to each other, so whatever happens in one city impacts the other. The thought was, how can we collaborate with our shared experiences? I was attracted to the opportunity to collaborate with Jacob, and to highlight and refocus attention to the beauty of just surviving. That’s something I’ve been exploring in New Orleans for a long time. You know, art is a form of therapy, and for me, one of the most beautiful things about both tragedies – Katrina and the flooding in Baton Rouge – is that the culture is what made us resilient and made us able to cope. Whether it be through painting, through music, through poetry – these are ways that you process the trauma and cope with it. And that’s tied into survival. I’m always looking for ways to use art to explore and process that, so I thought it made sense to do this, to collaborate with a Baton Rouge artist, and to articulate to the world that we are surviving. We’re going to keep surviving. We are still here.”
“My daddy used to do this and when we growed up we started doing it. We used to go in the truck and things with him. But my daddy he started it all with a push cart. That was way back then.”