Meet the man behind the facebook phenomenon Humans of Leeds

Apparently he does a lot of walking

With over 6,000 Facebook fans and an exhibition on the way, Humans of Leeds is truly the king of street photography in our fair city.

The Tab caught up with the anonymous mastermind behind the page to talk street portraits and being rejected by the elderly.

The Tab: What made you want to start photographing people?

HOL: I remember seeing Humans of New York posts in my feed and thinking it was a great idea. I wondered if I’d be able to do something similar in Leeds so I started researching the subject.

My research led me to find blogs, articles and posts on the street portrait phenomenon. It’s certainly not a new concept, with street photography probably being one of the oldest forms of photography.

How much inspiration did you take from Humans Of New York?

Initially, using the Humans name was simply an easy way to name the project. I didn’t expect to replicate it since I didn’t have any idea about working on the streets, let alone interviewing people.

I guess the New York version inspired me to learn more about street portraits and street photography in general. I try to attain the general concept, whatever that is, but I don’t restrict myself to it. I’d rather the project evolve naturally than forcing it in any particular direction.

Who would you count as your inspiration?

I discovered great British photographers such as Daniel Meadows. He photographed a lot of Britain in the 70’s, travelling around in his converted double-decker bus.

There’s also Chris Killip, who is widely recognised as documenting some of the most important visual records of life in 80’s Britain.

And finally, Niall McDiarmid who’s contemporary portraits inspired me to try different approaches with my own style of photography.

How was your first day on the job?

Probably the most nervous I’ve ever been if I’m honest! I remember it being a beautiful sunny day in March and I must have walked for over an hour round the city before plucking up the courage to ask someone.

I was rejected of course. I couldn’t get my words out – I came across all wrong. I felt awful afterwards, but not long after I forced myself to ask someone else and Andy (below) became the first portrait in the series.

What makes you want to approach someone?

It can be a number of factors: their style, their walk, a flash of colour, their energy, and sometimes it’s none of those things. There is no real formula.

Do you get people who don’t want their picture taken?

Yes, of course. Not everyone is comfortable with having their photo taken.

I’ve found that the elderly generally tend to shun photography. It’s probably where I receive my highest number of rejections, and it’s a shame because sometimes I’ve had great conversations with that generation, but a photo is strictly off-limits.

Who do you think is the most interesting person that you’ve spoken to?

I don’t think in terms of these limitations. Everyone has something interesting to say, whether it be something serious or banal, it matches the person in the photo and that is unique.

I hope the humanity comes out in the accompanying quotes, but the photo is as important to me, if not more, as its visual.

What’s your favourite picture that you’ve taken?

I have so many and they’re favourites for unusual reasons. The one that comes to mind was of Tamsin . It was taken about four months into the project and I was still in my experimental stage so I was trying lots of different compositions and styles.

This portrait came about completely randomly, I remember noticing the intense colour of her eyes during our conversation and thought to get closer in. These types of shots don’t happen often.

What does a day taking pictures involve?

Lots of walking, a few rejections, lots of conversations – and lots of walking.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment I’m busy collecting images for an exhibition at a new concept venue called Lambert’s Yard. It’s really exciting to be working with them, as not only is it their grand opening this Autumn, but it’s also a chance for me to showcase my work and for the public, including my subjects, to come, see and experience.

As for the future of Humans of Leeds, I would like to publish a photo book at some point, it seems to be the natural course with photography projects. I already know how I’d like the print, so it’s a matter of curating the right images and finding a suitable publisher or self-publish if that’s viable.

See more photos at or search for Humans of Leeds on Facebook.