Since 2007 I have been traveling and photographing the remaining architecture, art, and landscaping of World’s Fairs internationally, illustrating how these temporary events have permanently transformed the urban sites on which they were held. Often I revisit a site over a span of years, documenting how it transforms along with the changing priorities of its locale. Beginning with London’s great Crystal Palace of 1851 of the first official World’s Fair (now more commonly known as ‘Expos’), these spectacles have been celebrations of architecture, technology, and the might of industrialized nations
In the 19th century one could not experience the wonders of the globe on an iPhone or other device; the most cutting-edge discoveries and creations in art and technology could only be experienced at an Exposition Universelle. People would travel miles by steamboat and train; millions of dollars were spent by the hosting city to create permanent urban infrastructure and over-the-top pieces of architecture, essentially creating magical, temporary mini-cities.
Much can be gleaned from viewing how these sites have aged, offering a prism into the hows and whys of preservation and repurposing of architecture. Seeing as many of the actual fair pavilions were large, unwieldy, and hard to maintain, the majority of these structures now have a very different life than their original intention as a marketing tool for a specific nation; they now exist as office buildings, museums, homes, casinos, amusement parks, or simply as abandoned relics to the goals of a time long past.
The scope of the photographs to be potentially exhibited at the George Eastman Museum present examples of the myriad directions these sites and structures have taken. In New York the 1964 New York State Pavilion, designed by Philip Johnson, just had its 50-year birthday, thrusting it for the first time in years into the New York media spotlight. There are images of complete abandonment (2008) and with a bit of new red paint (2014) but the actual bones of the Pavilion are cracked and structurally unsound. Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome of 1967 in Montréal glitters in the light, now home to an environmental museum but lacking its original white acrylic shell, which was lost to fire during a routine welding. In the foreground is a small sustainable house, complete with a green façade, plants dripping down around the windows, a strange neighbor to the unearthly dome behind it.
These sites and fantastical towers, when viewed together in my photographs, provide a dynamic overview of how World’s Fairs have left in their wake some of the most extraordinary towers and monuments of the last two centuries, and the utopian/ dystopian effect of time passing on these futuristic endeavors.