The man behind the ‘Humans of Queen Street’

An interview with Mike Wheelton

By Anuja Nadkarni

Mike Wheelton

What inspired you to start your website, did the Humans of New York play a part? 

I started my website before I knew about it (Humans of New York)…I got a new camera, and couldn’t work for some personal reasons, so I started taking photographs and then I realized with the more photographs I took, the ones that I liked were of the street people and people around Auckland. I found I got enough photos, if I kept my eyes open and my criteria was to find interesting people.

I noticed your page is based more around the photography rather than any interviews why is that?

I’m not sure about the narrative, I’ve tried it, but it doesn’t sit right, and the people I want to write about won’t let me. 
A lot of the street guys wont let you take photos if they know its going to go on Facebook and I have to give them my word that I wont put it on Facebook otherwise they’ll get upset. A couple guys have told me they’ll get more than upset, they said they’ll hunt me down and beat me up…So I had a choice to do narrative of ordinary people because they’ll allow it, or keep taking photographs of street people or candid shots which is harder to do.

When did you start your website?

I started it about 18 months ago. I’ve been going through them and there’s too many that are boring, because when I started I took different photos, and now I like photos that are little bit edgier.

So would you say you now found your niche?

Yeah, I’ve now found the style that I like. And that’s what its all about, like the guy that does the Humans of Auckland is narrative or interview based where as my page is photography based- and while I’ve tried to combine the two, I cant get the ‘streeties’ to agree to me using their name or having a conversation.

Despite only having started your Facebook page two months ago, how did you surpass 2000 ‘Likes’ in such a short time?

 My daughter mentioned it on the Humans of Auckland page. And while he (person behind the HOA page) isn’t a good photographer, he’s more of a narrator, he obviously understood I’m not competing with him and he let me into his database and that made a huge difference over night.

And now I’m just experimenting with what photos that market likes.

You were saying you like to take photos of interesting people, well who is the most interesting person you have come across so far?

 Well there is the guy talking to his bird. But the favorites are more the hardcore street people…or guys that have got really interesting faces.
They’re not pretty to look at, but that’s what makes you look.

What has this experience taught you?

It takes some courage to walk up to people on the street and ask them for a photo. The initial reply is always a no, but then I have to try and explain what it is I’m doing, hand them my business card, and then they know I’m alright.
There are some really interesting people out on Queen Street.

What are your plans for your page in the future?

“What I’d like to do one day is turn it into a book. One day I can see pulling maybe 200 photos out of it, that are good ones!”

You can visit Mike’s blog here and follow his Facebook page here.



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