Humans of Leeds: Humanity on Display

Following in the footsteps of other Human’s Of… photography projects, LUU hosted an event of its own. Camille Hanotte went along to check out the innovative new piece.

As I was walking down the stairs in LUU, I didn’t really know what to expect from the collaboration between Humans of Leeds and Leeds University Union.  As I walked down the stairs into Pyramid, I saw the seven pictures from this Humans of Leeds series, placed carefully on the wall, with each one a cultural and global story from a Leeds student.

Standing near the pictures, I could see a camera dangling from the side of a man shoulder. So I approached him, timidly, certain that this couldn’t be the only person behind these photographs.

As I introduce myself, I feel somewhat intimidated to be in front of the daring person, who is bold enough to capture the lives of the citizens of Leeds with his camera. With over 45,000 followers on Facebook, the photography project Humans Of Leeds is a big deal. I look down at my note book, and I start with the question I’ve been dying to know – How did Humans Of Leeds (HOL) come about?

The page started approximately four years ago on March 9th, when the photgrapher finished the 365 day photography challenge, and he decided he wanted to start a new photography project. So, having heard of Humans Of New York, he thought that he could capture the lives of everyday ordinary citizens around Leeds too. A quick research and it became clear that it was his destiny. Despite HONY’s presence in New York three years beforehand, there still wasn’t a Human of Leeds photographer.


As he continued to talk about his experience of slowly starting out, he then inadvertently answered my next question. Like most fans of the project, I was keen to know how he had the courage to stop random strangers in the street, ask for their life story and a photograph. “Initially it was difficult, I could never really anticipate the reaction of people and it’s really about showing them you’re not wasting their time”. He got a few rejections along the way, and still does but for the few he gets, there are a lot more willing participants.

Getting carried away in the conversation, I froze. I was wondering why I still didn’t know his name. But, like Brandon Stanton (the founder of HONY), he prefers to stay anonymous, simply going by the name ‘Z’ in print. “The focus is not me, but my photography and the amazing stories of people within it”.  As he continued talking, I can really see his passion and his drive for photographing individuals every day. “You get to see the real them, the person who you take their picture can’t hide themselves”.

My writing is getting more and more scribbled as his answers become more interesting and intricate. Eventually the purple scribbles become a blur in an attempt to follow the conversation. I want to engage and respond but my hand is unable to follow the pace of his voice. Eventually he pauses.


Living in Yorkshire all his life he tells me you wouldn’t think that Leeds is the most interesting or diverse of cities. But from what he tells me and the seven stories which surround us, Z makes you realise such assumptions are wrong. “What really matters is discovering how rich and interesting the lives are of those who live and work in Leeds. It’s a good way to know the amazing people around Leeds, and to truly discover all the remarkable stories of those individuals”.

Clearly, his latest series showcased in the Pyramid café shows his passion for photography. As an artist, his photographs are not only aesthetically pleasing but contain a deeper social message.  Inspired by this week’s World Unite Festival at Leeds University Union, Z’s newest series focuses on discovering the lives of university students with diverse cultural backgrounds. As he told me “we can learn so much by exploring and embracing cultural diversity”.

Through his photographs and the seven initial stories, it’s evident that Z has captured the identities of the people and how being immersed in different cultures has become part of their identities. The stories also showcase the difficulties many international students face when integrating. Through their moving stories, it’s clear that Leeds has becomes part of their cultural circle and identity.

As part of the continuing project, Z is currently looking for more students to participate into the project. For more information visit The Humans Of Leeds Facebook page.

Camille Hanotte

(Images courtesy of Camille Hanotte and Humans of Leeds)

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