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"Things Come Apart" reveals the inner workings of everyday consumer tech

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June 4, 2013

Exploding effect mantlepiece clock (Photo: Todd McLellan/Thames & Hudson)

Exploding effect mantlepiece clock (Photo: Todd McLellan/Thames & Hudson)

Image Gallery (27 images)

Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living is a new book featuring the work of Canadian photographer and master disassembler, Todd McLellan. The book features images of the inner workings of 50 everyday items from bicycles and chainsaws to modern day computers and phones, with each component painstakingly laid out with geometric precision. McLellan hopes that the imagery of the disassembled objects will help people appreciate the elaborate and efficient designs of modern technology, while exposing the beauty and quality of older items.

Every single component of each object is included. In addition, a component count clearly shows us how technology has embraced a smaller footprint while growing in complexity. Some examples include a 2007 Blackberry (120 parts), a 1970 sewing machine (482), a 2012 digital SLR (580), right up to a Zenith two-seater CH-650 light aircraft (with 7,580 components). In total, the book is adorned with over 181 color illustrations, revealing 21,959 individual parts.

In direct contrast to the flat, meticulously organized images in the first part of the book, McLellan also creates truly mind blowing photographs of the same objects “visually exploding" in front of our eyes. "The objects are organized on a raised platform up near ceiling level," McLellan tells Gizmag. "An assistant releases the components grouped in batches from the platform as I shoot in high speed resulting in multiple images which I then composite together in post processing. I used to try and capture the image as a whole but found it to be too time consuming involving a huge number of takes to get it right."

Does he have a favorite image? "If you ask me in a week it will change," he says. "It's not that I spend a lot of time looking at my work but each one has a different personal meaning to me. I like the blender, toaster, snow blower and, one that didn't make the book, the jigsaw. The blender I saw on a curb whilst I was out for a walk and promised myself that if it was still there when I went back I would grab it. The snow blower I grabbed at a friend’s house. I enjoyed working with this object because it reminded me of the days when I was in charge of cleaning our massive driveway by hand shovel. The neighbor would come over with his old snow blower and clean the whole driveway out saving me hours of hard labor. The toaster belonged to a friend’s grandmother who had used it throughout his childhood. It had been sitting around for years as a keepsake. He parted with the toaster on the premise that I would replace it with a print of the disassembled unit. The jigsaw was a similar model to one I had used in my childhood and it brought back great memories of being creative in our shop."

For most of his images McLellan shoots with a Hasselblad 555ELD body, Planar/Distagon Ziess lens and Capture One software with a P45 digital back and high speed flash supplied by four 3200J Broncolor Pulso G flash heads.

According to McLellan, cameras usually take about a day and a half to tear down and something like an iPad would usually take a half day. The piano was perhaps his longest and most painstaking deconstruction but as you can see in the video below, it was well worth the time and effort.

Todd’s passion started in kindergarten with finger-painting classes and grew to a fascination with assembly drawings. Born among the golden wheat fields of Saskatchewan and raised by a carpenter and an electronic technician, he soon became adept at using his hands. His passion for photography was cultivated at the Alberta College of Art and Design having been inspired by many great image-makers. "I have a fascination with visuals that combine different disciplines. I enjoy creating them in studio, in the great outdoors and, occasionally, with finger-paint," he says.

Things Come Apart unravels the inner workings of some of the world’s most commonplace designs and rekindles our child-like joy of dismantling things to see how they function. It is a milestone in his life-long passion of documenting the technological methods of modern mass production – in reverse.

The book was published on May 31st 2013 and you can order it now through Amazon and Thames & Hudson. The sped-up video below shows Todd McLellan dismantling objects ready for one of his shoots.

Source: Todd McLellan, Thames and Hudson Publishing

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