Everybody has their own story, and New Orleans-based photographer Claire Bangser is interested in all of them.
Driven by curiosity, and inspired by the colourful characters she’s come across in her city, Claire would make up stories in her head about what goes on in the lives of people around her as she walked down the street – and a few years ago, she decided to meet these people and share their stories with the world.
Her street portrait project, NOLAbeings, has garnered incredible success and since then, her work has been featured in TIME, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to name a few.
“I was working as a photographer in New Orleans and I heard about the Humans of New York project. It seemed like New Orleans would have a lot of characters to meet and to feature that would be different to New York.”
“I was just using my cell phone for the first few. I went up to people I saw around me and said, ‘Hey, I’m doing this project, can I take your picture?’ It was very casual. I started posting them on Instagram, and through word of mouth I started getting hundreds of followers really quickly.”
“I started to formalise it a little bit. I used my real camera to take photos, and recorded all my interviews using the voice memos on my phone, to make sure I was quoting people properly. I started getting the word out, and it quickly grew.”
Bangser an established photographer, is determined to keep her passion project ‘NOLABeings’ alive – and instead of monetising its success, she’s decided the blog should remain independent of editorial interference.
“The value of this project is really just about amplifying the voices of people who are normal people going about their everyday lives. So often, the people who have the megaphone are the people who already have the power. And it’s humanising and empathy-building, when you have everyday people connecting with other everyday people that they might not have otherwise met or spoken to.”
Not one for shyness, Claire would strike up conversations with strangers whenever she can, whether she’s sitting next to somebody on an airplane or in a coffee shop – and over the years, there’s certainly been a few who have stood out.
“There’s this woman – she’s an older black lady with a purple afro, and I saw her through a window. I ended up going inside this coffee shop and I was like, ‘Can I interview you some time? I’d really love to chat with you.’ We ended up talking right then and there for about an hour. She told me how her granddaughter had inspired her to dye her hair purple.”
“After I shared that story, not only was there a big response from the community, but she got back in touch with me, and she told me that people all over the town were recognising her, and said that there were people who dyed their hair because of the post.”
“I’ve reconnected with her in the years since, and she’s just an awesome person and a friend to me now. I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to talk to her in the first place if I didn’t have an excuse. But as a result, now I have this beautiful friendship with an older woman who I might not have met otherwise.”
And while she’s happily based in New Orleans, in the city that made her a photographer, Claire knows there’s many more stories to be told beyond her home town.
“I think there are people everywhere with interesting stories. New Orleans has its own unique flavour, and there are so many characters here. But I’d certainly consider doing something like this in other places. The world is fascinating.”