Ghosts in the Machine

Our computers and gadgets are wrapped up in shiny metal cases that betray the complex, interconnected circuitry going on inside.

Ghosts in the Machine

Photographer Mark Crummett decided to find out what exactly goes on inside our blinking machines.

Ghosts in the Machine

Crummett uses discarded bits of circuit boards and wire bundles to create vast landscapes that resemble micro-cities.

Ghosts in the Machine

He populates these with small-scale figurines, or "scalies," just .75 inches tall.

Ghosts in the Machine

Most of the scalies, which Crummett sources from hobby shops, are dressed in period outfits, looking like railroad workers from the '30s, which colorfully contrast their environment.

Ghosts in the Machine

Others, like this hazmat-clad explorer or a mischievous disappearing bunny that pops up now and again throughout the series, are more mysterious and lend the photos a menacing air.

Ghosts in the Machine

A lilliputian laborer tries to fix a jam in the computer parts.

Ghosts in the Machine

An overalled man inspects a coiled "tower" on a circuit board.

Ghosts in the Machine

A worker is caught in the cavity of an echoing structure.

Ghosts in the Machine

Crummett imaginatively constructs a wide array of scenarios: “I like setting up vaguely absurd situations that make a certain kind of internal sense.”

Ghosts in the Machine

Who would have thought that Crummett would find artistic freedom inside (and not on) a computer? “I can be as realistic or fantastic as I want to be.”

Co.Design

A Photographer Imagines Secret Worlds Inside Our Computers

Mark Crummett uses circuit boards, discarded motherboards, and tiny figurines to elaborate on what goes on in our machines.

Up to 90% of Americans, according to a recent poll, own a computer or computerized gadget, but few of us actually know what’s going on inside those sleek steel shells. If it weren’t for the occasional whir of the cooling fan or the metronomic blinking of lights, you might even think you’ve tapped into some kind of magic instead of a finely tuned piece of hardware with lots of interworking parts.

For seasoned photographer Mark Crummett, that’s part of the mystery: Anything could be going on in our machines, and we’d never know it. Crummett’s photographic essay, Ghosts in the Machine, investigates that very premise, and imagines a cast of colorful characters journeying through the innards of our computers.

“I like the hidden mystery of that world,” Crummett tells Co. Design. “When a steam engine, for example, is operating, by god you know something is happening! A computer, on the other hand, generally looks the same whether it’s screaming through a video game or it’s powered off.”

Crummett repurposes bits and bytes of disused motherboards, circuitry, and wire bundles as sprawling otherworldly landscapes. He populates these micro-cities with small-scale figurines (in architectural/design parlance, “scalies”) just .75 inches tall. The scalies, model railroad humanoids that Crummett sources from hobby shops, are poignantly clothed in all manner of dress, with construction workers, doctors, astronauts, and cyclists, among many others, all represented here. “Like real people, they’re always interesting to photograph,” Crummett says. And adds, “Unlike real people, they’re always available and infinitely patient! And of course, I like their size. Everything you put them next to in our world looks huge and monumental.”

It’s with evident delight that the photographer constructs his scenes. He imaginatively pairs computer parts with scalies wearing quirky attire: A pair of helmeted laborers in overalls, stranded in a field of spinning gears, administers repairs; a paunchy middle-aged man navigates his bicycle through heaps of soldered batteries and pushbuttons; and a devilish bunny rabbit pops in and out of PCI slots with viral spontaneity. One of Crummett’s personal favorites, an engineer-cum-high priest in an orange jumpsuit, thrusts his arms up in the air toward an LED in humbled awe.

Asked about the whimsical construction of each scenario, Crummett says it’s a kind of recontextualization. “I like setting up vaguely absurd situations that make a certain kind of internal sense.” The “orderly way” that the circuit boards are arranged and their limited color palette acquire architectonic and industrial dimensions, which makes for a convincing “urban” context into which he can insert his lilliputian models. Here, among these mechanistic fragments, Crummett says, “I can be as realistic or fantastic as I want to be.”

In architectural renderings and models, scalies are haphazardly employed--alien travelers pushed to the margins only to texture the street life promised by this or that new luxury condo or riverside commercial district. But Crummett’s protagonists refuse to blend in. They don’t spell out “prospective” or hypothetical scenarios as much as mirror the conditions of contemporary life, where, Crummett says, technology constructs our own experiences and environments. The scalies, with their anachronistic wardrobes and clumsy, fleshy proportions, clash with the cool machinery of their adopted living spaces. But because they also channel the “hidden power flowing through those mysterious components,” they sweetly overlap with and even extend those spaces.

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2 Comments

  • Naomi Garnice

    Sammy,  "hey sweetly overlap with and even extend those spaces" -- wow, amazing writing! Great post, I love the different graphics.