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.

[rebelmouse-image 19532758 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption=""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." expand=1]"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.

[rebelmouse-image 19532759 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption=""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." expand=1]"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.

[rebelmouse-image 19532760 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption=""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." expand=1]"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.

[rebelmouse-image 19532761 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption=""To come out here ... it took a lot of practice." Photo by Claire Bangser/NOLA Beings." expand=1]"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."

[rebelmouse-image 19532762 dam="1" original_size="750x1125" caption=""I have to be here... it just feels right." Photo by Claire Bangser/NOLA Beings." expand=1]"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.

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Marine veteran Paul Coppola is a wonderful example of the transformational power of service dogs.

Ten years ago, he was rocked by two explosions in an attack that took the lives of 17 Marines in Afghanistan. The attack left Coppola with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and an injured back.

Coppola didn't think his struggles warranted a service dog but after prodding from his wife, he was paired with Dobby, a four-year-old black Lab mix trained by veteran organization Operation Delta Dog.

Dobby and Paul soon became best friends and partners in life.

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via © Jakub Gojda/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021 and © Zoe Ross /Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

Two of the winners of the Comedy Pet Photo Awards.

A few weeks ago, Upworthy shared the hilarious winners of the 2021 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards and the winner was a well-timed shot of a monkey who appears to have hurt the family jewels on a suspension wire. (Don't worry folks, no monkeys were harmed for the awards.)

The awards were created six years ago by Tom Sullam and Paul Joynson-Hicks to promote positive awareness of animal welfare issues. The competition has been so successful, the duo decided to branch out and create the Comedy Pet Photo Awards, where photographers can submit pictures of their furry friends for a £2,000 ($2650) prize.

Donations generated by the competition go to Animal Support Angels, an animal welfare charity in the U.K.

This year's winner is Zoe Ross for "Whizz Pop," a photo of her labrador puppy Pepper who appears to be tooting bubbles.

“We never ever thought that we would win but entered the competition because we loved the idea of helping a charity just by sending in a funny photo of Pepper," Ross said in a statement. "She is such a little monkey, and very proud of herself, bringing in items from the garden and parading past you until you notice her. She is the happiest puppy we’ve ever known and completely loved to pieces.”

Here are the rest of the winners of the 2021 Comedy Pet Photo Awards.

Overall Winner: Zoe Ross "Whizz Pop," Penkridge, U.K.

© Zoe Ross /Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

Did this puppy swallow a bubble?

Best Dog Category: Carmen Cromer "Jurassic Bark," Pittsboro, North Carolina

© Carmen Cromer/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"My golden retriever, Clementine, loves to stick her face in front of the hose while I water the plants. Her expression in this photo made me think of a tyrannosaurus rex, hence the title, "Jurassic Bark." Duh nuh nuuuh nuhnuh, duh nuh nuuuh nuh nuh, dun duh duuuh nuh nuh nuh nUUUUUUhhhh." – Carmen Cromer

Best Cat Category: Kathrynn Trott "Photobomb," Ystradgynlais, U.K.

© Kathrynn Trott/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

Jeff stealing the limelight from his brother Jaffa.

Best Horse Category: Mary Ellis, "I Said 'Good Morning,'" Platte River State Park, Nebraska

© Mary Ellis/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"I like to visit the stable horses before I begin my hike at the State Park. This is the reply I received when I said 'Good morning.'" – Mary Ellis

All Other Creatures Category: Sophie Bonnefoi, "The Eureka Moment," Oxford, U.K.

© Sophie Bonnefoi/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"Cutie and Speedy are two chicks hatched from eggs placed in an incubator at home in August 2020. They spent their first few weeks indoors. In the photo, they are just over two weeks old. They were curious about everything. This is the day they discovered their own shadow. It was hilarious to see them wondering and exploring that 'dark thing' that was moving with them!" – Sophie Bonnefoi

Junior Category: Suzi Lonergan, "Sit!" Pacific Palisades, California

© Suzi Lonergan/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"Our granddaughter gave the command to sit. Beau is very obedient." – Suzi Lonergan

Pets Who Look Like Their Owners Category: Jakub Gojda, "That Was a Good One!" Czech Republic

© Jakub Gojda/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"This photo was taken by accident during the photography of my ex-girlfriend with her beloved mare. For this cheerful moment, I thank the fly that sat on the horse's nose and he instinctively shook his head." – Jakub Gojda.

Highly Commended: Chloe Beck, "Hugo the Photobomber," Walsall, U.K.

© Chloe Beck/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"This is my best friend Faith, her husband Alex, and their cheeky Sproodle, Hugo. Faith wanted a photograph to mark a special occasion—her first outing after shielding at home for 14 months. Hugo jumped into the frame at just the right moment!" – Chloe Beck

Highly Commended: Luke O'Brien, "Mumford and Chum," Coventry, U.K.

© Luke O'Brien/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"Losing the opportunity to play with my human bandmates during lockdown, Flint, my rescue dog, soon taught me that we didn't just have sharp bones in common, but musical ones, too. He soon became the perfect substitute for a collaborative stomp up at home, so much so that we felt we deserved our own band name (Muttford and Chum). With my camera set up remotely during this shoot, I think it's fair to say that the image is proof that his conviction as a performer matches my own." – Luke O'Brien.

Highly Commended: Kathryn Clark, "Wine Time," Cichester, U.K.

© Kathryn Clark/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"It's that time of day again! Little Blue enjoys it almost as much as me." – Kathryn Clark.

Highly Commended: Diana Jill Mehner, "Crazy in Love With Fall," Paderborn, Germany

© Diana Jill Mehner/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"This is Leia. As you can see, she definitely loves playing with all the leaves in autumn. It was really tricky to take this picture because you never know what the dog is going to do next." – Diana Jill Mehner.

Highly Commended: Christine Johnson, "Boing," Crosby Beach, U.K.

© Christine Johnson/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"I was busy playing with my dog on the beach and this dog came to play. I liked the shapes he was making in the air." – Christine Johnson

Highly Commended: Manel Subirats Ferrer, "Ostrich Style," Platja del Prat de Llobregat, Spain

© Manel Subirats Ferrer/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

Nuka playing hide and seek at the beach.

Highly Commended: Colin Doyle, "Nosey Neighbor," Bromsgrove, U.K.

© Colin Doyle/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"According to Ozzy, we need a new fence panel ASAP. He is fed up with Chester our nosy next door neighbor spying on him every time he has a meal." – Colin Doyle.

Highly Commended: Corey Seeman, "A Warm Spot on a Cold Day," Michigan

© Corey Seeman/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"Two of the morning regulars at the dog park are Gary (hound mix with the jacket) and Kona, one of the most chill dogs ever." – Corey Seeman.

Highly Commended: Lucy Slater, "So What?" San Diego, California

© Lucy Slater/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"This is how I like to sit!" – Vincent the cat

Highly Commended: Mollie Cheary, "Photobomb," Poole, U.K.

© Mollie Cheary/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"Bailey was so excited to see her friends, she couldn't sit still for a photo!" – Mollie Cheary

Peet Montzingo following his mom around with a trombone is delightful family entertainment.

Peet Montzingo and his mom have the most delightful relationship, as evidenced by their joint videos on Montzingo's social media platforms. And one viral video sums up the sort of fun Montzingo and his unique family engage in.

The video is a compilation of clips of Montzingo following his mom around with a trombone, making silly sound effects as she goes about doing chores and normal daily life things. It's simple and silly, which is what makes it so wholesome. People can't get enough of their gentle bantering.

Watch:

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Dolly Parton was the picture of grace in her 1977 interview with Barbara Walters.

Dolly Parton is a beloved icon whose appeal somehow bridges a diverse audience. Even people who aren't big fans of her music admire her for her kindness, philanthropy and unflappability.

Barbara Walters is a now-retired broadcast journalist who gained international fame for her candid interviews with well-known figures. Though she was renowned for her interview techniques and willingness to ask tough questions, sometimes her questions could be somewhat tactless.

Put those two together 44 years ago and you get a shining example of Parton's grace and wit in the face of tasteless questions about her looks, her breasts and criticisms lobbed at her. Parton has always been who she is and portrayed the outward appearances she wants to portray, and she calmly and deftly navigates Walters' patronizing line of questioning with impressive poise.

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So much of Barbara Walters' commentary and questioning comes across as condescending and judgmental, but Dolly Parton transforms that negativity into a positive portrayal of who she is, where she's from and what she's all about.

When Walters told her she was beautiful and didn't need the wig and the make-up and the outrageous clothes, Parton told her it was a choice she's making. “I don’t like to be like everybody else," she said. “I would never stoop so low to be fashionable, that’s the easiest thing in the world to do.

"I'm very real as far as my outlook on life and the way I care about people and the way I care about myself and the things I care about. I just chose to do this, and show business is a money-making joke and I've just always liked telling jokes," she added.

Walters asked her if she ever feels that she is a joke, since people make fun of her.

“Oh I know they make fun of me, but all these years the people have thought the joke was on me, but it’s actually on them,” said Parton. “I am sure of myself as a person. I am sure of my talent. I’m sure of my love for life and that sort of thing. I am very content, I like the kind of person that I am. So, I can afford to piddle around and do-diddle around with makeup and clothes and stuff because I am secure with myself.”

The questions about Parton's breasts were particularly tacky, especially by today's standards. But Parton handled it all beautifully. Her responses are a masterclass in grace and her self-assurance is a refreshing model for us all—especially now that we can see how she has stayed true to herself all these years. Anyone who has ever wondered why Dolly Parton's appearance is what it is will learn a lot from this interview, and anyone who wants to learn how to maintain dignity and class in the face of inconsideration will learn a lot as well.