WILLY SPILLER – HELL ON WHEELS
Opening and book launch in the presence of the artist.
Thursday, 30 March: 18h to 21h
Bildhalle, Stauffacherquai 56, 8004 Zurich
We are pleased to announce the new publication of the book HELL ON WHEELS - NEW YORK SUBWAY 1977-1984 (Edition Bildhalle) and the opening of the exhibition of the same name. The photo book as well as the exhibition show not only the iconic images from the legendary series, but also photographs that have never been published before. Bill Shapiro, former editor-in-chief of LIFE magazine, wrote the introduction.
The exhibition lasts until 20 May 2023.
“In May of 1977, a 30-year-old Swiss photographer named Willy Spiller, newly arrived in New York City and recover-ing from the one-two punch of jetlag and a night in the notorious Chelsea Hotel, descended the steps of the city’s subway for the first time.
What he saw was terrifying.
And, truth be told, addicting.
Beginning that week and continuing for eight years, Willy Spiller brought his camera on the subway, and he shot. He shot cops and robbers. He shot the fashionable and the indigent, commuters and kids. He shot the unpredictable dance of strangers interacting in tin-can train cars. He shot the beginnings of stories whose ends he left to our imaginations. Film was expensive so he chose his moments carefully; still, over the years, he amassed some 2,000 frames.
Despite having mainly photographed local events for a weekly newspaper in Zurich (which, at the time, had a population that was less than one tenth the size of New York’s), it didn’t take Willy Spiller long to understand that there is nothing more New York than its subways, each car a sweaty, rattling microcosm of the city itself—a loud, crowded, colorful melting pot where everyone is thrust into everyone else’s business. At some 60 feet long by 10 feet wide, and packed with well over 150 impatient passengers at rush hour, a subway car, Willy Spiller realized, held the threads of the City’s 8 million stories: the crash of high and low culture, the swirl of accents and dialects, of cussing and laughter, of newcomers who stare and natives who have seen it all before, of thrift-store sweaters and Fifth Avenue handbags, not to mention the frustratingly inaudible announcements of the conductor which send a not so subtle message to riders: Down here, pal, you’re on your own.
And so, slowly at first, Willy Spiller began to shoot, a few snaps on the way home from a freelance assignment, half a roll on the way to meet friends for drinks. But over the course of a few years—and God knows how many fifty-cent tokens—a rare document began to take shape, one that captured a singularly fraught time in the life of New York’s now 118-year-old subway system.”
Bill Shapiro, former Editor-in-Chief of LIFE magazine Excerpt from the introduction