Manc of the Month: Pete Oakley

Now I know this is a curve-ball, a weird one, a bit unusual… but this January’s Manc of the Month is my husband!! Obviously I am a bit biased, but Pete is actually a super talented photographer. He has worked his way up from studying photography at college, to doing work voluntarily, to now being a Head Photography at a studios in Manchester. I sat down with Pete (literally on our sofa with ‘I am a Killer’ on in the background) and talked about his work and his career. Read on to find out more.

Cotton On MCR: Please introduce yourself to the Cotton On MCR readers?

Pete Oakley: ‘Hello, I’m Pete Oakley and in my day job I’m a Head Photographer at a commercial and advertising studio in Manchester, and by night I take photos of grotty streets and building sites.’

COM: How did you get into photography?

PO: ‘I kind of stumbled into photography. I was never that academic and so when I failed my A levels, I found myself enrolling on a photography course at the local college. After that I studied photography and video at University of Lincoln, which wasn’t at all helpful but Uni was fun. After Uni I spent years shooting anything and everything from event photography to architecture, just trying to make photography into a full time job. I then started to specialise in still life photography, as that’s an area I felt I could get to experiment in the most.’

COM: You say that Uni wasn’t helpful, what do you mean?

PO: ‘The course was way too art theory based and not enough practical advice. It might be alright if you want to be an art photographer but not what you need if you are trying to get into the commercial world.

COM: How would you describe your commercial photography? 

PO: ‘I think my work is bold, colourful and graphic, there’s also a slightly weird surrealist twist to a lot of it, such as exploding breakfasts, impossibly balanced fruit and upside drinks.’

COM: ‘Speaking of surrealist work, one of your most popular images is an egg. Can you tell us more about that?

PO: ‘Haha, those bloody eggs. I shot a series of images of eggs about 3 years ago and since then it’s popped up everywhere! It’s been stolen, copied, turned into illustrations, and reused by countless companies all over the world with no permission or credit. It even ended up as a series of adverts for a South American sex toy shop. It’s annoying but there’s not a lot you can do about it. I guess you just have to take it as a compliment.’

COM: What advice would you give to people looking to get into photography? 

PO: ‘Be creative. Think differently to a computer. The industry is changing rapidly, things like CGI and more recently AI are now taking some of the work. Things like room sets and cosmetics are now more often than not CGI renders. This is only going to increase as technology gets better. If you can keep producing creative and innovative images you’ll stay one step ahead of the computers (it’s not just Skynet that’s out to get you).’

COM: What is the day in the life like for Pete?

PO: ‘One of the reasons I love my job so much is the variation. My role ranges from Art Direction, to briefing meetings, set building and obviously photography. Even the photography is extremely varied. One day I could be shooting drinks flying through the air, and the next it could be shooting skin care products on a model.’

COM: What do you think of Manchester’s art scene?

PO: ‘Pretty decent, there’s a really exciting bunch of artists studios and independent galleries that constantly have interesting and exciting work on show. Places like AWOL Studios and Saul Hay Gallery always have great stuff. I do think Manchester struggles to attract the huge global artists like London does, hopefully with the opening of Factory that will all change. I did read that as part of the opening Yayoi Kasuma will be exhibiting some work, so that’s pretty crazy.’

COM: You mentioned earlier that you also take photos outside of your day job. Can you tell us about those?

PO: ‘I’ve recently got back into night photography. I used to love it, but life and work got in the way and so I didn’t shoot anything for about a decade. But now I’m back. Shooting dingy little bits of Manchester in the middle of the night. It might have something to do with the fact that I spend all day making products look as good as humanly possible, that in my free time I want to show the overlooked grotty bits of town. I’m hoping to build a body of work that I can exhibit and possibly self publish a little book. Fingers crossed.’

COM: Do you have any other goals for 2023? 

PO: ‘My aim for 2023 is to (hopefully with the help of Domino at Cotton On MCR [Domino is my wife so she better help]) put on a group landscape photography exhibition in town. Showcasing some of the great photographers in Manchester that show a different side to the city that hasn’t been photographed a million times.’

COM: If you could live in any artwork, what would it be and why?

PO: ‘Kazimir Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ looks like it would be a real nice chilled place to live. No drama.’

You can see more of Pete Oakley’s commercial work on his Instagram or his night work on peteoakley.nights

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