Last week I had the opportunity to visit the WIRED Insider Pop Up store in New York City as part of the Marriott + WIRED Insider Culturazzi event series. While the cool gadgets on display were the stars of the show, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by some innovative photos featured throughout the store. The works were of various objects, from radios to cameras, that had been disassembled and then photographed; sometimes in a faux state of mid-explosion and others painstakingly lined up piece by piece. The work was by Canadian photographer Todd McLellan, an amazingly creative and obviously well organized artist.
Todd was born and raised in Saskatchewan but now calls Toronto, Canada home where he is a member of the Sugino Studio team and specializes in automotive, commercial and conceptual work. His latest series explores the deconstructed beauty of gadgets. Todd methodically takes apart each device and lines up every individual piece for his shoot. Amongst his most incredible photographs are of all of the components suspended mid-air, somehow frozen in time. Todd was good enough to take a few minutes out of his schedule to answer some of my questions and I know you’ll love the answers.
1. Obviously one of the things you’re best known for is your series of photographs featuring disassembled and virtually exploding objects. In an interview last year you said that you had a few hero items you wanted to eventually include, any hints what those might be?
Todd – Well they’re larger objects. What I have done recently is photograph a plane that was completely in pieces.
Matt – Did you take it apart yourself?
Todd – No, no it was the manufacturer. Actually things have changed a bit with me, I’m still curious about what’s inside but I don’t always have to take them apart.
Matt – Where does that curiosity come from?
Todd – I’ve always had it, my family was very hands on. My father was a carpenter and my mother was an electrical technician, so instead of buying new things growing up we were always challenged with how to recreate them ourselves. This just piques my curiosity.
2. Photography is a vital component of my work and every other traveler, from someone on vacation to a seasoned writer. One issue that comes up again and again is over-editing. How much is too much?
Todd – Hmm, well you have to go through and tell a story, correct? So I think you want to keep that broad so that a wider audience might enjoy it.
3. With easy access to high quality cameras and cheap if not free editing software it’s become an HDR world. How do professionals such as yourself try to get above the noise of the raucous amateurs, like me?
Todd – Consistency of imagery is important for any professional. There is some amazing imagery around the Internet and it has brought everyone together to create something that’s beautiful and I think that’s great. Before you went to school, right, you apprenticed as a photographer and really learned the technical side. Now you can just get out there, create and enjoy it.
Matt – So is that a purer form of art?
Todd – Yes, but photography can be both very technical and artsy, right? When you bring commercial into it you as a professional you need that understanding of the technical in order to be successful. As an amateur, you can take great photos on a mobile phone or use HDR, but you have to be able to replicate it, it’s that consistency that’s important. Being able to recreate a great photograph is a technical exercise.
4. What’s the biggest surprise you’ve encountered during the disassembling projects, other than how many pieces there are?
Todd – Well there’s the challenge of suddenly needing a special tool you don’t have in order to continue taking something apart. I didn’t create it, I don’t have the assembly manual so it’s tricky. Part of the process though is understanding how it works as well as how to take it apart. You get a real appreciation of the industrial beauty of these objects by taking them apart.
Matt – Even the iPhone I heard you took apart?
Todd – Yes, even with the mobile phones. They’re fascinating and the people behind them are real designers, they have to be in order to fit everything in there so well.
5. You’ve taken some beautiful travel and landscape photos. What inspires you when you’re on the road?
Todd – It follows what you’re feeling at the moment and just aligns with that. You may be seeing the same scenes as another person but you both perceive two different things. For me it depends where I am, what time of day and the light. I love late evening and against the sun shots. I’m more occupied with serene images.
Matt – So shooting into the sun at noon usually isn’t a good idea, right?
Todd – [Laughs] No, not usually unless that’s just your style.
6. I spent some time in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan a few months ago…
Matt – Why do all Canadians laugh when I say that? Well you grew up there, so from a photographer’s eye what inspires you most about the city and the region?
Todd – When I was there I wasn’t so inspired, but going back to visit after having lived in Toronto for a while I really appreciate it for the quaintness, the architecture, the amazing light and skies and just the flatness of it.
7. What is the craziest question someone has asked about your disassembling project?
Todd – Well a lot have been just about the process, but I guess it was the one that asked about the project and the rule of thirds. [Todd laughs] I mean, none of it really falls into that category.
Matt – So they were a real technical purist then.
Todd – Yeah, I shoot those photos dead center, so there’s no real adherence to the rule of thirds.
8. Do you think our own love/hate relationship with the gadgets in our lives is what has made your series so very appealing to people?
Todd – A bit of that, but I think it’s a lot of people in general are just very curious. That’s why I think it’s been more successful for the modern objects. For the older objects it’s nostalgia, they remember having something as a kid and get a kick out of seeing it this way. With the modern objects people are fascinated at seeing things they use everyday that they have in their home in a completely new way.
You can learn more about Todd and his work by visiting his website at ToddMcLellan.com
I was compensated for my time with Marriott, but as always all thoughts and opinions are absolutely my own.
1 thought on “The Art of the Gadget – Interview With Conceptual Photographer Todd McLellan”
I’m a WIRED geek! Very cool that you got to attend this event. Todd’s work is great.
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