Starting in the 1850s, the craze for World’s Fairs swept across Europe and North America, leaving in its wake elaborate buildings designed to represent an idealized vision of the future. Since 2007, Jade Doskow has been photographing as many of these sites as she can, exploring how they have been preserved or neglected, left to crumble or incorporated into the fabric or even the soul of their cities. More than 60 images, made from Paris to Vancouver, are collected in Lost Utopias, published this month in the U.S.by Black Dog Publishing.
As she recalls in an interview with Vladimir Belogolovsky reprinted in her book, Doskow became interested in the World’s Fair architecture while on a family trip to Seville. “I stumbled upon the seemingly infinite acres of half-abandoned postmodern pavilion buildings from the 1992 World’s Fair. This sparked the idea for a project, and upon returning to New York I began researching the topic in earnest, discovering a remarkably dense subject matter that crossed lines of architecture, design, culture, preservation, nationalism, contemporary art and larger historical powers that shaped these events.” Shooting on film with a 4×5 view camera, (“not dissimilar to the equipment used at early world’s fairs,” she notes), Doskow emphasizes how the architects’ vision of the future has aged, whether by crumbling and rusting or simply by being left behind by changing tastes. “There is so much fantasy that goes into creating these structures, but afterwards they are often lost to neglect, arson or demolishment,” she says. But many are also simply absorbed by the city around them. “They are also repurposed into museums, monuments and fountains, housing, restaurants, tourist attractions, racetracks, zoos and city parks.”
While Doskow has spent close to a decade on the project, the prospect of getting to all the sites around the world now feels less pressing, if not impossible. Says Doskow, “I have come to realize that logistics and funding predict what I am able to shoot more than anything else. I use opportunities to travel to different places, and because these sites are very organic and keep changing all the time, sometimes I return to take new photographs. This project could be a life-long affair and I plan to do more books and exhibitions, so I think I will be working on this even when I am in my 90s.” Pioneer Books in Brooklyn hosts a launch for the book tonight.