Some disassembly required
Photojournalist turns vintage technology parts into works of art.
There’s something therapeutic about taking apart old gadgets and knowing you don’t have to put them together again. Or perhaps it’s just a compulsive hobby. But that’s what Tel Aviv-based photographer Gabriel Menashe finds fulfilling about his side business, which he aptly describes in his blog, Taking Apart.
Menashe meticulously disassembles vintage technology from the 1960s to '80s – tape recorders, alarm clocks, a video camera, printing calculator – and exposes their inner workings. To document the process, he takes "before" and "after" photographs and has sold some of the resulting prints around the world.
For Menashe, the photographs breathe new life, even immortality, into objects others throw away. “I honor the item, pay last respects,” Menashe told From The Grapevine. “I take a photo that will last forever.”
Every Friday, Menashe can be found scouring the flea markets of his hometown of Jaffa, searching for treasures he can deconstruct in the name of art. “If you go to the flea market, it’s like a cemetery of things. Sometimes you can see the life of someone in a box. Someone died and someone else brings their stuff to the flea market.”
So far, Menashe has disassembled a little over a dozen items, including a Sony Walkman and Discman, a Panasonic voice recorder, a dial phone and two alarm clocks.
The photographs are carefully composed with each piece in its proper place, drawing on Menashe’s skills from a decade as a photojournalist for local newspapers. When he moved up to an office-based job, Menashe began to realize he missed taking photos.
The new hobby bridged the gap, combining two passions: taking photos and perusing flea markets, said Menashe.
When deciding which items to disassemble, Menashe says he follows three rules:
He won’t pay more than $11 or $12. The gadget shouldn’t have to be fixed, and when he’s taking apart the pieces, he never breaks any. Sometimes he has to use a drill to remove the parts, but he’s always been able to get the pieces apart. He even invested in expensive screwdrivers used by watchmakers and glasses that magnify three to four times like surgeons use, he said.
Once he removes all the pieces, he puts them in a baking pan so he doesn’t lose any. “If someone looks at a photo they don’t know if it’s missing screws. It’s important for me for everything to be there. I’m not going to publish anything if something is missing. I won’t use it.”
In the same vein, Menashe understands that even if one screw is missing, the original gizmo couldn’t work.
“When you take something apart, you see the genius of the parts. I think to myself: Who designed this? It’s amazing.”
Menashe is not the only photographer who shares this specialty. Todd McLellan of Toronto, Canada, wrote a book about his work, “Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living.” and exhibits his photos around the world.
“When I started exploring this in 2009, I was introduced to the world of knolling that I had no idea existed,” McLellan told From The Grapevine between exhibits in Japan. Knolling is the process of disassembling gadgets, arranging their parts and taking photos.
“My disassembly series started with exploring old objects that I had lying around which were all mechanical. I then continued all the way to explore the most modern of electronics. Everything is disassembled and laid out in a methodical way in which it was disassembled.”
Menashe, who hopes to exhibit his work someday, too, says he assembles his pieces based upon intuition and his sense of good composition. “I have to feel it. Something connects with me.”
Among his next projects, Menashe plans to take apart typewriters, a video camera, cuckoo clock and eventually a vintage car. If someone donates one to him, that is.
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