There’s a special type of anxiety that comes from taking apart a piece of tech. Whether you’re opening up a red-ringed Xbox 360 or replacing the RAM on your MacBook Pro, you can’t escape it. There’s always a fear of bending a pin, shocking a board, or putting it all back together only to realize you have one tiny screw left over.
Auckland, New Zealand-based photographer Richard Parry channels this fear in his beautifully shocking Some Assembly Required photo series. Parry tears apart the most iconic tech from the past few decades and displays it in an awe-inspiring matrix of nuts and bolts, each piece marking the evolution of consumer tech from the inside out.
I spoke with Parry about the process behind exploding a piece of tech, balancing the line between the real and artificial, and what devices gave him the most trouble.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Tell me about your background. How did you first get into photography?
I was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and I’ve spent my entire life here. I think I’ve always been quite creative, but it took me a long time to find a medium to express it in. I didn’t buy a camera until I was in my mid-20s, but by then, I had a really firm working knowledge of photo editing software. I just needed images to edit at that point.
Did you go to school for this?
Nope. I learned everything I know from the YouTube community. It’s really incredible what you can achieve for free from your home. Shoutout to Aaron Nace from Phlearn. Their work is so valuable.
How did Some Assembly Required come together? What inspired it?
I’d just finished another series where I’d make huge, ridiculous food monstrosities, and I was looking for the next series. Following on with more food, I “disassembled” a PopTart and some pizza. I had an old film camera laying around, and I thought I’d try that, too. I got a lot of positive feedback on that, and I set out to find culturally relevant objects to feature and settled on video games consoles and handhelds. I think people were excited to see what was inside these items they’d spent so much time with.
What’s the process behind these?
First, I’ve got to strip them all down to their parts and clean all the years of dirt and dust out. (There’s heaps.) I lay everything out in order of what level they’ll be on. To achieve the floating in midair look, I separate everything with clear sheets of plastic on a rig I made out of PVC piping.
How long does each piece take to create?
Depending on the complexity of the item, it can range. Roughly 15 hours per piece, I’d say.
Was there a particular device that was noticeably more annoying to dissect than another? On the flip side, which one was your favorite to work on?
Modern items are much more annoying to work with. There’s a lot more glue and plastic clips holding everything down, which can be impossible to remove without damaging something else. Older consoles are a breeze. Everything is held in with screws, and all the components have room to breathe inside the case. That being said, older items tended to be permanently soldered, which you don’t see so much in modern products.
Do you try to put these items back together, or is that an exercise in futility? Have you ever lost a small piece and failed to put something back together? Did you buy these items with the full intent of destroying them?
I’ve tried my hardest to buy already broken secondhand items online. So typically, I don’t have to worry about breaking it any further because they’re already trash. All of the Nintendo handhelds, though, went back together, and I upcycled them and sold them on their way. A couple of times, I was even able to find what had failed in them and get them working again.
Many people are shocked when they find out these images aren’t renders. Do you walk the line between real and artificial purposefully?
It’s a careful tightrope. People often assume they’re rendered. I’m told that to render them at this level of detail would be even more work than photographing them. I really have a lot of respect for 3D artists. I don’t have the patience for it at all. I think people connect with the work more when they know it’s a real item.
What are some of your favorite creative tools and resources? What software do you use on a daily basis?
As I’ve mentioned before, the YouTube creative learning community is such a wealth of knowledge, and I owe a lot to them. I work in Adobe Creative Suite — and love them or hate them, it’s the best creative software on the planet.
How do you rest and recharge yourself when you’re out of ideas?
My day job as an electrician kind of holds me back from doing as much creative work as I’d like. I’ve got pages and pages of ideas that I just can’t get to. I’m definitely set with ideas for a long time. I mostly do this on my days off, and I count my creative work as my rest and recharging state.
What’s your dream project, something you’d love to work on in the future?
Oh man, I’d love to work on something massive like a car. I’d need like an airplane hangar to get it to look right, though. Maybe one day.
What’s next for you?
I’m sticking with this until I run out of interesting items to take apart. I think I will probably circle back to working with food again.