Leeds man’s photo documentary of ordinary Leeds folk is an online hit

Zubeir Tai, founder of the Humans of Leeds, project, a social documentary photographing and interviewing ordinary Leeds folk he meets on the streets.   Pictures: James Hardisty
Zubeir Tai, founder of the Humans of Leeds, project, a social documentary photographing and interviewing ordinary Leeds folk he meets on the streets. Pictures: James Hardisty
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We’re only human after all.

And photographer Zubeir Tai has decided to showcase us in our ordinary glory.

Zubeir photographing Richard Tomlinson, whilst in the centre of Leeds.

Zubeir photographing Richard Tomlinson, whilst in the centre of Leeds.

Zubeir, 42 is the man behind the Humans of Leeds social documentary project - chronicling portraits and personal stories of strangers he meets on the city’s streets - which has gained 50,000 followers on social media, and is growing every day.

The Leeds IT worker and dad of one was inspired partly by the Humans of New York project.

With no real purpose in mind apart from to practice his - at the time - fledgling photography skills, he is now expert at highlighting the extraordinary in ordinary Leeds folk.

He even hosts regular themed exhibitions of his work.

Some of Zubeir's 'Humans of Leeds' subjects

Some of Zubeir's 'Humans of Leeds' subjects

“I had no idea it was going to become so popular,” Zubeir, who was born and grew up in Batley, explained.

“But I have now photographed close to 1,800 strangers in the street.

“You get people who are completely open to it, and people who are unsure.

“It’s not candid photos, it’s portraits, and permission is always sought. They say yes or no.

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“I have been taken aback by how much it’s grown.”

Zubeir, who works in Leeds city centre, often spends his lunch hour finding and photographing new subjects.

In fact, it was as a lunchtime activity - and a way of getting some human connection away from his solitary office life and the increasing disconnectedness of a social media driven world - that the project really started.

“I was working in an office where a lot of people had been made redundant and I was the only one left on the team,” explains Zubeir.

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“And basically I would come into work and not speak to anybody for the whole day because they had got rid of everybody.

“I would just sit at the desk, not go out for lunch even, just do my work and go home.

“I was like a robot and I wanted to have human contact.”

Nowadays Zubeir sees himself as much as a storyteller as a photographer.

“After I have taken their picture I will ask them about their life, the challenges they have faced, their life changing experiences, something personal or unique,” he says.

“I don’t know what I was hoping to achieve but I am a storyteller now, very much so.

“I just really love meeting people, and I enjoy the randomness of not knowing who I am going to meet and hearing their story.”

Asked if there is something special about Leeds people that makes them ideal subjects for such a project, Zubeir admits it might not work as well in other cities.

“Leeds people themselves are very friendly, more so than other places I have been to,” he says.