Smartphone, 2007

Todd McLellan methodically takes pieces of technology apart, then photographs the results. Here, a BlackBerry’s 120 parts were dropped from an elevated platform and captured using strobe-lighting technology.

Smartphone, 2007

In this image, the components are arranged in the order in which they were revealed in the disassembly process.

Swiss Army Knife, 2000s

Older, reliable tools have relatively few parts. This Swiss Army Knife, for instance, has 38.

Desk Lamp, 2002

This light from Ikea has 73 parts.

Laptop Computer, 2006

This Apple laptop is made up of 639 pieces.

Chainsaw, 1990s

Component count: 268.

Children's Wagon, 2011

Schwinn; component count: 296.

Bicycle, 1980s

An exploded view of a Raleigh (893 parts in total).

Bicycle, 1980s

An exploded view of a Raleigh (893 parts in total).

Bicycle, 1980s

An up-close look at the many bike parts.

Snowblower, 1970s

This Mastercraft model contains 507 pieces.

Typewriter, 1964

A Smith-Corona, component count: 621

Printer, 2005

Over the years, you’ve probably fought the impulse to do the same to one of your printers. Epson, component count: 532.

Toaster, 1970s

Sunbeam, component count: 151.

Toaster, 1970s

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A Photographer Finds Order And Chaos In Disassembled Gadgets

Todd McLellan tears apart design classics to expose their hidden complexity.

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.

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