"One rarely speaks of pavilions anymore..." --Sandra Bernhard
Though the exposures are off, the focus is cloudy and color is inconsistent, these photos mean a lot to me. They are perhaps my favorite of the 1500-plus images in the family slide archives, having been stashed for 40-odd years in a small box marked "1964 - 1965 Worlds Fair" in my grandmother's impeccable Honor Roll hand. When I started collecting old books, postcards and photos of New York City as a child, every time I hit upon another pamphlet or guidebook from this epic event, it was like history saying, "Hey, Christian... Yep, you missed out on this party BIG TIME, kiddo!" Not content to let this pass into history without my examination (if not my involvement) I read everything about the fair that I could get my hands on and exhausted my Mom, grandparents and aunts and uncles with questions about every detail of the multicultural party that ended eight years before I came along.
Obviously, the overall spectacle of color, light, water, gyroscopic monuments and promises of some nebulous epoch that everyone called "Tomorrow" both attracted and confused me. According to all the literature, photos and illustrations in the old New York World's Fair souvenirs at my grandparents' house (and all the ephemera I'd begun to find at garage sales and flea markets) I was supposedly living in the promised era of this sleek and colorful slipstream, but it didn't really look like the stylistically transitional, uneven and (let's face it) ugly-ass shit show called Staten Island that I knew as a pre-teen in the early-to-mid 1980s.
Since then, as an adult who continues to research and collect images and objects from this event, I've heard many accounts of how the earlier 1939-1940 New York World's Fair held much more fully-realized promise for the masses. Mainly, historians have noted that the technological and cultural strides illustrated in the futuristic pavilions at that particular fair actually came true, whereas the
sexed-up glass and steel 1960s revamp of the event was little more than a smoke, mirrors and snake oil salesman circus with a funhouse feel.
I'm not certain that that's entirely true... I think it just took a while for the Bell Systems "television phone box" to evolve into the Skype and iChat that we know today. Perhaps they just overshot by stating that we would all be having in-home, interpersonal face time across continents by 1984. Regardless, to see this much-storied event personalized through the lens of my grandfather's camera (and to have these pictures of members of my family enjoying it) is a priceless gift. My guess is that no exhibit illustrating technological progress, information systems and high-gloss entertainment media could prepare him for the notion that one day, 46 years later, his future grandson would be sharing these very images with countless, anonymous spectators from behind the screen of a machine that outstripped the power, access and capabilities that any World's Fair attraction could predict.