“How did you come up with that?” — Mike Sallabank, photographer
BY Daniel Chapman
Mike Sallabank frequently bursts into infectious laughter as we talk things over in Common one Friday lunchtime. He’s got a late night ahead of him that sounds more like an early morning, and he’s looking forward to seeing how the photographer coming to a club shoot with him later works.
“I’m always interested in how people do things,” he says. “It’s the maths part of my mind. I always want to know how things work.”
That’s why Mike’s in control when it comes to the technical side of his job, shooting editorial photographs for Thomas Street’s casual wear institution Oi Polloi. He has recently moved on from product shoots, replacing that job with one in marketing, and he’s having to learn fast; all while the house in Stretford, bought with his girlfriend at the start of the year, remains undecorated. Or even de-decorated, in parts, that they started but haven’t finished.
“I did the bedroom at Christmas when she went to visit her family for a few days,” says Mike. “So we have that. And we didn’t touch the bathroom or the kitchen so we’ve got everything we need. It’s just the rest of it…”
It waits because Mike has a lot going on, which we think he likes. The creative atmosphere in Manchester keeps him by turns fired up and intimidated.
“I went to the degree shows at the university, and I saw this chair that someone had made using a computer program they’d written to emulate evolution. It was just like, what? How did you come up with that? But I love things like that.
“If you look at everyone working here,” says Mike, indicating the smart flurry of staff running Common around us, “They’ve all got something going on. And they’ll keep doing that thing, when they’re not working here, and then at some point it’ll click. And then, woosh.”
Mike likes to immerse himself in an atmosphere like that, and surround himself with people like that. “I like doers,” he says. “So I try to be around people who are doers. It’s great because I’m the total opposite.
“I have so many ideas of things I’d like to do, I just never get round to them. I’ll do them all one day. Well, some of them.”
The idea is that being around doers might rub off on Mike, but his cheerful enthusiasm must run off on them, too; having people like Mike around makes it easier to do things.
“I am quite a cheerful person,” he says. “I’m generally pretty happy. So I don’t know why I like taking photos that don’t have people in them, but that is what I like. They have this… sadness. Which is what I like about them. Which doesn’t really make sense.”
Mike has always had a camera with him since he owned a Canon Ixus, that he carried around in the days before everybody had a mobile phone and every mobile phone had a top class camera. Taking photos was always what Mike liked doing, even while he was studying engineering, which he liked a lot less than he thought he would.
“I spent about seven years at uni, mostly just drinking, and not doing much really. At the end of it I thought, right, I have to do something now, and it has to be something I enjoy doing.”
He started working at JD, then Oi Polloi.
“It’s going to be hard for me ever moving on from Oi Polloi,” says Mike. “The last few years, there have been some top people working at Oi Polloi, and I identify with the place and I like working there. The stuff it has taught me is invaluable. We never look at anyone else; we’re not worried about what other people are doing. You’re always judging your own work, which makes you better quicker, I think, because you can see when something that you’re doing is crap. And you need that when you’re doing a job like this. It’s all about that editing.”
On the side, and behind the scenes, Mike takes photos of whatever he wants — that’s about the best description of it — and posts some of those photos on Instagram. And the editing process is still integral.
“Not too many,” he says. “I take photos all the time. My girlfriend gets annoyed with me sometimes, when we’re on holiday and I’m stopping every two minutes to take a photo.” Mike gives us an example of what he likes to shoot. “I like to photograph… and this’ll make me sound like such a wanker. But I like to photograph the light.
“But I don’t believe in bombarding people with it on Instagram or whatever. It’s like when people upload holiday photos on Facebook, hundreds of them, and include all six shots of this one building they were trying to get right.
“I just want to show people the best stuff I’ve done, the things I really want them to see. And to show what I’m into at that time, which changes all the time. So while some people are really good at building up a social media following for this one thing people like them for, I prefer to change it around and only post the really good stuff.”
The best stuff, in Manchester, is down the canal. On a nice day the canal is a walk to work and a chance to take pictures.
“It’s four or five miles, and the canal has got that real nice balance. It’s industrial, but it’s quite green. I’ve taken a lot of nice pictures down there. I like the canal, wandering down there. Water’s good for that, and you don’t see it all the time, it’s hidden next to the industrial buildings.
“At the Bridgewater you can walk right up, and if you carry it on through, it goes under Oxford Road and it goes through these tiny little arched, cobbled tunnels. You get nice light, and interesting stuff that I guess you don’t see all the time.”
Which is probably as neat and suitably unpretentious a summary of Mike’s photos as you’ll get: nice light, and interesting stuff that you don’t see all the time. And that’s why we like seeing them. ••
Originally published in The City Talking: Fashion