Portfolio: Michael Whelan


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The Independent Culture

Erb, says Michael Whelan, is quite the bocha player. The American invited the Scot to be his team-mate for a game – which is similar to lawn bowls – at his retirement village in Phoenix. "He's 90-something," reveals Whelan, "and he still had a killer arm on him."

The photographer came across Erb on his last day in Arizona, where he'd been working on a commercial. The retirement community lived next door to his hotel and, says Whelan, "was a goldmine".

A goldmine, that is, for his photo-blog, "The Other Day…". In January, the 36-year-old was shooting a series about chance meetings – capturing that split-second glance between two people who think they recognise each other – when a teenaged lad came up to him and told him he should really have a blog to show off the project. "It felt a bit whimsical, but now I upload photos every two to three weeks. They're either images I've edited out of projects, or I've taken them while I've been out and about on recces or in a new place."

Who else, then, do we have here? There's a cleaner in Crimea, who Whelan shot while on a job there in April. "I was getting up early in the mornings as it was so hot I couldn't sleep, and I started taking photographs of the hotel staff." Then there's two women staring out to sea in Brittany – "one of my favourites, just for the colours" – and a lady in Crimea: "I had a glass building behind me that gave her a bit of a glow."

Other than Erb, Whelan didn't speak to any of his subjects. But why photograph them from behind? "I think there's a peacefulness to them that you don't get when you see a face; we spend so much time reading facial expressions but these are quite calming. And there's also something about the mystery of it… if they weren't shot in such bright light, they might be quite sinister."

For more: m-whelan.com; michaelwhelanphotography.tumblr.com