During the late 70’s and early 80’s, New York City’s subway system was one of the most dangerous places a person could be. Lucky for those of us who never had the chance to see it, Swiss photographer Willy Spiller was there, and the dark and atmospheric series of photos he took has now come to be known as Hell On Wheels.
A New York resident between the years of 1977 and 1984, Spiller witnessed the birth of rap music, the rise of grafitti, and Ed Koch’s election as mayor. Unfortunately, he also witnessed a spike in crime, a large portion of which took place in the city’s underground quarters. The rate of violent incidents in the New York subway was so high by 1980 that the NYPD had over 2300 police officers patrolling the system at all times. Spiller took his chances and documented what he saw.
Though the photos were first released in 1984, Hell On Wheels had its glory restored in 2016. Sturm & Drang publishers put Spiller’s work to print in a limited edition series of hardcover, vivid colour coffee table books. “These images hardly tell a story of crime and danger,” Dr. Tobia Bezzola writes in the book’s chilling forward. “Willy Spiller doesn’t discover darkness in the underground but rather an idiosyncratic, vivid realm of its own.”