Some Disassembly Required: Exquisite Teardowns of Everyday Machines

There's an art to a good teardown. Todd McLellan, a Toronto photographer who’s disassembled everything from pianos to iPads, has perfected it.

McLellan is the son of a carpenter and an electrical technician, so he was born into a world of assembly drawings and spec diagrams. In his career as a commercial photographer, he works on campaigns for new cars and gadgets. But as an artist, he takes them apart. He works without user manuals, and often without special tools, figuring out how things are assembled as he goes. At the end of the process, he arranges the innards on a white canvas for documenting, like a naturalist archiving an interesting specimen.

That’s actually an apt metaphor, since McLellan is drawn to older, outmoded technologies—like vintage lawnmowers and typewriters—which he sees as more interesting than the gadgets we use today. “I have a very keen interest in finding out how things work,” he said a few years back. “I can just imagine the hands that put them together with such precision. We don't get the same thing out of current technologies and the product now don't last nearly as long.” Slowly but surely, he’s working his way up to bigger objects—his dream? To take apart a full street car.

A book of McLellan's photographs, called Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living, comes out at the end of the month. In the meantime, an exhibit of the same name is on view this month at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry—check it out until May 19. Can't make it in person? Here are some of our favorites:

Some Disassembly Required: Exquisite Teardowns of Everyday Machines

Some Disassembly Required: Exquisite Teardowns of Everyday Machines

Some Disassembly Required: Exquisite Teardowns of Everyday Machines

Some Disassembly Required: Exquisite Teardowns of Everyday Machines

Some Disassembly Required: Exquisite Teardowns of Everyday Machines

Some Disassembly Required: Exquisite Teardowns of Everyday Machines

Some Disassembly Required: Exquisite Teardowns of Everyday Machines

[Things Come Apart via NPR and the Museum of Science and Industry]