Professional photographer Todd McLellan was always a tinkerer. A few years back, he started collecting everyday objects—including a fire extinguisher, snowblower, accordian, record player, microwave, iPad—taking them apart, meticulously arranging their components and then photographing them. The result is a series of truly fascinating photographs collected in Things Come Apart.
The book also features what McLellan calls "drop" photos, in which the components were arranged on a platform near the ceiling and then dropped, at which point they were photographed in mid-air. A handful of essays from the likes of Gever Tulley—founder of the Tinkering School for children—dot the book, providing perfectly timed pauses between photos that have a tendency to invite prolonged, intricate study. More than just a gorgeous art book, Things Come Apart is also a visual feast for the curious and the nostalgic, who giddily turn each page to devour what awaits on the next.
We asked McLellan about the inspiration behind the project, his creative process and whether he has a favorite photograph.
Did you take things apart as a kid?
I was very young, but I did it with a hammer and not specialized tools. I can’t really put a date on it, but I was younger than most. I also remember using a soldering gun at a pretty young age and having a workbench in my bedroom with a pretty heavy-duty electrical tester that my mom brought home from work. At the time I had no idea what it was for, but it looked pretty cool.
(Swiss Army Knife, 2000s; Victorinox; Component count: 38)
What was your selection process? Are there any objects didn’t make it into the book?
I started collecting things years ago, then started to photograph them in 2009. They came from second-hand shops, street curbs and were stuff people gave me. They were all objects that people had discarded or given up because they were no longer needed. As I moved along with the book, I began to actively search a little more but still wanted to follow this discarded path. There are many objects that didn’t make it into the book. Some I enjoy individually but weren't a good fit with the others.
I like making the mind work. It gives viewers the opportunity to look at the pieces and make the object whole in their heads. The objects are what everyone has seen before—it's what’s inside that most people haven’t seen.
The aircraft almost didn’t happen. This was the object that I was searching for for quite some time. There are many objects that I didn’t get to take apart but will get to them at some point in the future.