“i’ve never seen the city like that” — tom joyBack
“The car park at the markets — that’s one of the best views,” says Tom Joy. “On a nice evening, my two favourite spots in Leeds are the NCP next to the markets, and the NCP opposite Pinnacle.
“If you go up there on a nice evening, you get this mad view of the city, and by five or six most of the cars have left. From seven o’clock onwards you can just chill. It’s nice.”
They’re not places that would obviously spring to most Leeds people’s minds when trying to decide where to spend a nice evening out, but that Tom has found them within two years of arriving in town from his native Aberdeen is a testament to his determined search of Leeds’ everything, documented on his website, on Instagram, and with the urban exploratory photography collective Leeds Lurking.
Tom’s photos are easily found online these days — and lining the staircase at Mrs Atha’s — but the places he shoots are hardly found, even when they’re often seen.
“When I arrived in Leeds I didn’t really know it,” he says. “I had no idea where I was. I didn’t know anything about the city. And it was really bugging me.”Tom had finished a degree in graphic design without much enthusiasm; picking up an SLR halfway through his first year inspired more passion than graphics ever had. “Within a month or two I’d quit my job and was making more money doing photography. I still worked away at the graphic design at uni but I nearly failed a few times because I was so busy with other things.”
A week after graduation he was in Leeds; initially to work with a clothing brand, but also to seize the creative opportunities on offer in a new location.
“I didn’t have a great deal of work on when I came down, so I wanted to create something so I could show I was doing something, and wave a little flag in Leeds.
The first results of that are the Places and Spaces photos; a series of shots of indie businesses, usually before opening, that he describes as “documenting” the venues in ways that are not usually visible when you walk in off the street to a bustling Reliance or a packed Hyde Park Picture House.
The next results, still ongoing, were with the Leeds Lurking group.
“I started Leeds Lurking for the same reasons, but also as a chance for me to get out and see the city a bit more. I started talking to some photographers I knew in the city from doing nightclub photography, and we realised we were all into this kind of urban exploratory photography.
“It’s not the usual sense of urbex, about breaking into abandoned buildings to shoot HDR photos. It was more about how the other guys were like me, they didn’t know the city so well because they’re based outside Leeds, and I had come here with fresh eyes and the enthusiasm to pull the group together.
“We started lurking around the city. I enjoyed it a lot. It was cool to hang out with other photographers and like minded creatives. I was definitely lacking that in the jump from university to a brand new city; all my mates were back home, and all the creative things I had back home were axed to a big degree.”
Interest has grown as the group has grown, with as many as ten members going out together into Leeds to find places that are new to them, and perspectives that are new to the hundreds following on Instagram.”I always see things in a different way,” says Tom. “When people ask me about what Leeds Lurking is, I say it’s about showing Leeds from a different perspective — and that’s something that people have always said to me. ‘I saw that Leeds Lurking thing — I’ve never seen the city like that.’ And these are people who have lived in Leeds all their lives.
“Even the guys in the group who are from Leeds have said that doing this project has made them more aware of their surroundings, because they’re always looking for the next interesting thing. It naturally makes you more appreciative of what’s around you.”
What’s around us is always changing, and that’s one of the things that keeps Tom motivated to keep getting out into the city with his camera; a city is never finished, and there’s always more to see.
“I don’t think you can ever find everything,” he says. “Especially in Leeds right now. Look at how many cranes there are on the skyline, there are so many things going up, and that changes things day by day. All of a sudden that bit of light that came through those buildings isn’t there anymore, or there’s a new silhouette.
“There’s also just the idea that if you always turn left down a street, then one day you might turn right. Look how many nooks and crannies there are off Briggate, I’ve never been up and down them all. There’s still so much to see.”
Although the Leeds Lurking group is a big part of Tom’s life and work now, and has begun taking trips to other cities — including a Twenty Four Hour Lurk that took Tom, Jonny Wilson and Nick Porter from Leeds to Newcastle to Edinburgh, without a break, to take wide-awake photos that will be exhibited this summer — he is also still finding inspiration in simply looking around himself, by himself.”About a year ago I was going through quite a tough time, really struggling with being away from home and not having any close friends. Something that comforted me was taking a step back for a moment, rubbing my eyes and thinking, actually, this is quite cool. Where I am is quite nice. I’m in good health. I’m in a good place — things could be a lot worse.
“I just started appreciating what was around me — that lighting’s really cool, or that building is really weird. I’m one of these people that stops in the street just to gaze up at a nice sunset.
“I think everyone needs to enjoy a moment for themselves, a selfish moment, and I’m definitely trying to have more selfish moments. Not even necessarily taking photos. It’s just really inspiring to look around where you are.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds issue 25