These incredible portraits capture the New Orleans many never see.
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New Orleans Tourism

When Claire Bangser first moved to New Orleans, she lived in a small cupboard under the stairs.

Well, not exactly.

But she actually did live in a closet at her friend’s apartment for six months. Luckily it was a spacious closet (it had a window!), and it only cost a whopping $100 to rent.


Six years later, Bangser still calls New Orleans home. Much to her surprise, what started out as a simple visit to see friends turned into a love affair with a city she simply couldn’t leave — at least, not for long.

Photo via Claire Bangser, used with permission.

After a brief trip abroad, one thing was certain: For Bangser, there was no place quite like New Orleans.

Inspired by the grit and charm of the city, she began diving deeper into the arts when she returned to NOLA.

A "creative wanderer," Bangser had first dabbled in stop-motion videos and graphic design, though she ultimately decided photography was her true calling. After all, she had fallen in love with the medium when she was just a kid after her grandfather showed her how to use his camera when she was about 12. She had even built a darkroom in her house to sustain her passion.

"It was the first time I felt guarded and safe and protected. She just did that without me asking for it." Photo by Claire Bangser/NOLA Beings.

But it was while she was at a cafe in New Orleans with her friend that she thought of starting an Instagram account for her photography work. She was inspired by the popular series Humans of New York and wanted to create something of her own, something that captured what it was she loved so much about this city she now called home. So, she created NOLA Beings.

Since then, Bangser has conducted thousands of interviews and captured countless photos of the people she’s met in NOLA.

"I began using my camera as an excuse to talk to people," she says. "There’s just so many characters down here that it’s hard not to be curious."

Then, she'd publish the photos on the Instagram account for NOLA Beings alongside a telling quote from their conversation.

"He opens the door for almost everybody, even men sometimes, which I feel is a little awkward. I guess I taught him too well!" Photo by Claire Bangser/NOLA Beings.

And from there, NOLA Beings changed Bangser's life. Not only did she become a full-time photographer and storyteller, but it also transformed her relationship to the city.

The more she explored and talked with people one-on-one, the more she realized her original perception of the city was a very stereotypical one.

Like most, she knew about the fun festivals, parades, beignets, and gumbo. But after living in New Orleans and having actual conversations with neighbors, she began to put together a sort of  "patchwork quilt" of the city’s exciting diversity.

"That's why we're here with our family. We love this country. That's all we can say." Photo by Claire Bangser/NOLA Beings.

It’s a city rooted in a colorful history that centers around Africans, Native Americans, and European settlers from France and Spain. That myriad and exposure of cultures has strongly influenced everything from the architecture to the food.

So while working on NOLA Beings, Bangser wanted to make sure she was always working to do justice in telling the authentic narrative of the city and its people.

"I feel like NOLA Beings kind of became my way of doing something for the city that was my little lens into the wild range of wonderful, diverse stories that existed here that were not the mainstream narrative," she said.

"It made me want to stay and be part of it. And it made me want to contribute to it," Bangser adds.

She started setting aside time to focus solely on exploring the city and taking photos. "I really believe that wandering around this city is the most magical way to find your truth here," she explains.

"To come out here ... it took a lot of practice." Photo by Claire Bangser/NOLA Beings.

A far cry from the closet where her journey began, she now finds that New Orleans is a city best experienced by sharing.

"I began to just see the wide range of characters and people who are coming from all over the place because something drew them to the city," she explains.

Characters like Dale, the elderly black man and longtime resident of the Ninth Ward who she befriended and now regularly walks with.

"He showed me and told me about what it used to be like there and really painted a picture for me of what that neighborhood was like to him," Bangser says.

"I didn’t have the ability to see that neighborhood in the way that he sees it," she explains, "but he opened himself up to show it to me."

"I have to be here... it just feels right." Photo by Claire Bangser/NOLA Beings.

And that's what NOLA Beings is all about — offering glimpses into a city and the everyday people who make it so remarkable.

New Orleans may be best known for the food, the lively celebrations, the music, and the architecture. But for Bangser, it's the people she meets that make New Orleans unforgettable.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less