Here’s a trade secret known by just about every New Orleans-focused Instagram account: the majority of the folks commenting, liking and appreciating the cityscape shots are from out-of-town.
It can be hard to remember sometimes, but the city has a way of captivating people who come to visit, getting its claws into folks and becoming a bit of an addiction. People peruse New Orleans Instagram accounts to get a fix from a snapshot of the city they can only wish they were in.
Valerie Esparza knows that feeling well because for a long time she was in that number. The photographer who shares regular snaps from her account @nola_val began her days on #NOLA instagram as a lurker in Las Vegas.
“I always come back to that phrase ‘Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?’ And I do,” said Esparza, who moved to the city about five years ago. “I fell in love with it. I fell in love with it long before I lived here. I started out on Instagram just kind of looking for inspiration when I was missing New Orleans.”
Esparza spent the 20 years preceding her move to the city in the desert, making her first trek to New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina.
“We had never been, and we had that moment of ‘Oh my God, the city could have been wiped out and we never went,’” she explained. “Then, when I did come to visit, everything just kind of clicked.”
Esparza says she and her partner started visiting multiple times a year before finally making the decision to move permanently. While she’s been into photography since winning a camera and taking classes to learn how to operate it, Valerie found her muse when she moved to the city. She quickly realized that she was scratching the same itch that got her on Instagram in the first place.
“I mostly get a lot of comments from people who say ‘Thank you for the daily picture. I just miss it so much,’” she said. “That’s why I do it.”
While Esparza started mostly with photos of doors, she says that she’s since moved on to landscapes and street scenes, hoping to transport her followers back to her adopted home.
“I like the images that make people feel…if they’re standing there what it would feel like,” she said.
Esparza admits that she puts out an idealized version of the city for the “incredibly positive place” that is Instagram. She told us that the balance of day-to-day life gets lost in her shots but that she understands that’s not what her followers are looking for.
“It’s a hard place to love, but it’s also an easy place to love,” she said. “I know some of the pictures that I look at, I’m trying to capture this beautiful scene but you don’t realize [what was going on around me.] Sometimes, I want to write that like ‘Ugh, you guys don’t want to know what I have to do to get this’ but I want to leave it like a happy image.”
And unlike some other NOLA boosters, Esparza says that she finds herself downriver as often as not.
“I end up over in the Bywater a lot,” she said. “We love the food scene over there. I do find that [compared to] other people’s pages, I am over there a lot.”
Whether it’s a door Uptown or a street scene downtown, Esparza remains committed to being the supplier of positive New Orleans vibes.
“I really just want to share a bit of New Orleans with people every day and to show off the beauty of this city,” she said.