Organising everyday objects by their thousands of tiny parts looks endlessly satisfying

Canadian photographer Todd McLellan says he grew up in a home where “something was always open.”

His father was a carpenter and TV repairman and his mother an electrical technician, so everyone in the family learned to take things apart and put them back together. It’s no surprise that McLellan became fascinated by the mechanical inner-workings of everyday objects: toasters, watches, coffee grinders.

Now 39, he has transformed that hobby into an ongoing photography series in which he takes ordinary pieces of technology, from salt and pepper mills to old Macintosh computers, lays out the guts of each object, and captures all the components in one shot.

The result is a stunning display of disassembly.

McLellan started the series as a way to celebrate the mechanics of old technology. 'As I'm taking it apart, if I press this button, I know it presses that lever, and you can actually see that happen,' he tells Tech Insider.

Todd McLellan
Salt and pepper mills

Newer technology doesn't offer the same tactile satisfaction, he says. 'You press the button and its goes into the circuit board, and then it makes something on the screen do something. You can't really place how that happened.'

Todd McLellan
Old Russian watch

The actual process of disassembly takes roughly a day and a half. For complex electronics, like a Walkman, the trickiest part is keeping everything organised.

Todd McLellan

Arranging the pieces takes another day or two, McLellan says, because he likes to group similar parts together. Combing through each one can be time-consuming.

Todd McLellan
Soviet rangefinder camera

One trick he's picked up over the years is to start arranging the largest pieces first, which are typically the cases or main units of a device.

Todd McLellan
Rotary telephone

From there he extends outward, adding the tiny wires, screws, washers, and bolts.

Todd McLellan

His largest project was a piano, which took five days to take apart and arrange.

Todd McLellan

McLellan says one of his greatest joys in doing the project is giving people newfound appreciation for the hidden complexity of seemingly simple products.

Todd McLellan

'People walk by and say 'Oh wow, I didn't know that was in there,' he explains. 'I kind of took that for granted. People don't know what's inside. They just use things.'

Todd McLellan

McLellan's favourite disassemblies change on a near-daily basis, he says. Right now it's his most recent project, an old-school coffee grinder.

Todd McLellan
Coffee grinder

Though he still keeps the old Macintosh close to his heart.

Todd McLellan
Macintosh computer

While most disassemblies are fairly smooth, some projects have given him a bit of trouble.

Todd McLellan
Electric mixer

Early video game systems -- like the Nintendo NDS, for example -- came with two screens, each with several different layers. 'It just becomes a bunch of different rectangles throughout the composition and not enough guts to it,' he says.

Todd McLellan

Simpler items, like toasters, are far more reliable in the range of parts they contain.

Todd McLellan

And some, like old-fashioned typewriters, are so complex that they're not just lessons in industrial design, but true works of art.

Todd McLellan

McLellan's series, 'Things Come Apart,' has been turned into a book and is currently on the road with the Smithsonian as one of its travelling exhibits.

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