Home / Photography / Street Photography / Vintage Photos Reveal the Gritty NYC Subway in the 70s and 80s

Vintage Photos Reveal the Gritty NYC Subway in the 70s and 80s

Willy Spiller new york subway photos

The New York subway has fascinated street photographers for generations, never more so than in the 1970s and 1980s. Gritty and tinged with danger, a subway ride was always an exercise in caution. In fact, in 1979, 250 serious crimes a week were reported on the NYC subway.

It's within this context that we view the work of Swiss photographer Willy Spiller, who was living in New York and documented the subway system for seven years starting from 1977. Traversing the city with the curious eye of an outsider, his photos tell the story of the graffiti filled New York subway.

His book Hell on Wheels is a look inside his rich photo archive, delving into the underbelly of New York during this pivotal time. “Willy Spiller’s images are as much a visual document of this incomparable realm as they are a syncopated, colorful poem to the city of New York and its people,” shares publisher Sturm & Drang. In fact, Spiller wasn't going on expeditions to specifically photograph the subway more than using it as a means of transport to arrive at his photo assignments. The shots are a simple byproduct of photographing while he was a passenger like everyone else.

Swiss photo reporter Willy Spiller photographed the New York subway from 1977 to 1984, creating a rich archive of what was then a dangerous space.

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Spiller would photograph the subway while using the public transit to go between photo assignments.

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The photos, which were first published in 1984, have recently been re-released in the book Hell on Wheels.

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h/t: [Vintage Everyday]

All images via Willy Spiller.

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.

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