It’s kind of insane, when you stop and think, that it’s now completely commonplace for many of us to replace our cellphones every year. Whether you’re a serious early adopter, or you fall prey to a drop and a shattered screen, it’s not at all strange to put down $200 (at least) on a new phone almost before you’ve gotten used to the old one. We don’t repair our phones when they’re broken; we immediately replace them.
Todd McLellan questions that practive, training his camera on our disposable tech culture through his photographs of torn-apart design classics. He’s especially drawn to older pieces of technology, whose simple constructions makes them easier to fix when broken. “It fascinates me that older objects were so well-built, and were most likely put together by hand,” he writes in the introduction to his new book, Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living. “These items were repaired when broken, not discarded like our devices of today.”
The contrast is especially stark when comparing, say, a deconstructed rotary phone from the 1980s (an orderly array of familiar parts) with a disassembled digital video camera circa 2005 (a dizzying collection of hardware and circuit boards). Rather than ending up at the bottom of a landfill or the back of a closet, those objects have been methodically taken apart by McLellan, who then artfully arranges the pieces in the order in which they were revealed in the process. “The thrilling part about disassembling an object myself, even before the photography, is the opportunity to understand the manufacturer’s challenge,” he writes. “I gain a basic understanding of how the item works and, in turn, a greater respect for it.” The smallest objects, he says, can require a space of three square meters for all their parts, which are then photographed on a neutral background “almost like a family portrait.”
That’s one of McLellan’s two preferred methods. The other involves letting the pieces fall from an elevated platform and freezing them mid-frame. The end result is rarely captured in a single shot; instead, McLellan drops the parts in batches and then layers the images in post-production. (Examples of both styles are included in the slideshow above.)
So the next time you’re faced with recycling an outmoded gadget, perhaps you’ll be tempted to take it apart yourself first. You may even discover what’s wrong with the thing.
The book isn’t available until the end of the month, but can be pre-ordered here for $19.