Müller is best known for his Vandals series, which documents the world-wide graffiti movement of writers who leave their name on public transport. After several years of working under harsh conditions on four different continents, Müller has taken this series to unexpected dimensions and is now one of the most famous photographers to document graffiti.
Müller has specialized in documenting the process of painting subways, which is considered the top prize within the international graffiti world. Subways hold such a high value because of the difficulty, the danger and risk involved. Subway painting has separated itself from the common graffiti community as it is a more secretive sect of the elite who push the bar and have created something which can be likened to an extreme graffiti sport. Regardless of the subway system or the country, razor wired fences have to be cut or climbed, motion sensors, cameras, and alarm systems have to be overcome and if something goes wrong, be ready to run.
A notable aspect to Müller’s work is his ability to keep create an environment which is neutral, he neither commends nor condemns his subjects, allowing the viewer to form their own conclusion. He shows a view into a split second of his reality from his perspective, often when things are happening so fast that there isn’t a second to stop. There is a story that is told, the skillful entering through secured emergency exits, the swift dash on subway tracks while the subway system is in service. The emotions that are captured are stem from successes to failures; the tension and fear, the sense of focus and determination are clearly felt throughout his work.
Müller is also able to capture the intensity of a moment, which can be seen throughout his Vandals series. This ongoing long-term project has allowed him to travel to many European metropolises such as Paris and London, visiting Berlin, Bucharest, Oslo and Milano but also documenting international destinations like Bangkok, Shanghai, Caracas and New York City. Müller’s takes a variety of risks in to document these actions and this movement. The threat of arrest, imprisonment and heavy monetary penalties in his native Europe, while his work in other countries carries a far higher risk, where security forces are equipped with machine guns.
Müller is continuing his documentation on the forefront of the international train painting movement and has already released one book, “Blütezeit” (Gingko Press, 2009) documenting the international train painting culture. He is currently working on a follow up title set to be released in early 2012. As the movement is still alive, the documentation is taking place but with technological advances, the increasing difficulty will one day put an end to this subculture. These photographs will be used to look back at something in its purest from. Thirty years from now, when graffiti will be grouped into a part of pop culture and removed of its stigmas, this contemporary documentation, free of any mass medial distortion will be used to understand the true past. People will be able to collectively admire a true and exact depiction of the, was has been condemned for such a long time.
> Müller’s book Blütezeit (2009) is sold out. Vandals, the next book, is coming
> some of these photos are available on Public Delivery
Nils Müller (b. 1982) is photographer from Germany, mostly recognized for his extensive Vandals series, which covers writers painting their names of trains all over the world. All of his work evolves around humans and their emotions.
The photos of Circus has been shot in Milano in 2009. The subway system of the Italian city has three different lines which started to get heavily painted in the mid 90s. Ever since, the yellow line has been the most difficult one for writers to access. The spot where Müller’s photos are taken for example offers one way in, one way out. Similar to Foucault’s Panopticon only one guard is needed to secure all trains of the compound.
Resisting possible arrest means that safety for the writers comes in numbers. On the other hand, a group bigger than of two or three increases the risk of being noticed. Therefore the writers portrayed are very cautious and tense.
Deep, Down & Dirty has been created in another European capital city. During on-going traffic, a subway is parked in a tunnel right after the rush hour has stopped. Regardless of the passengers on the platform and the security guards, the writers apply paint to the subway car. In addition, the actors are masked. All of this appears like a stage performance, but is merely a precautionary measure to take flight in the worst case.
Deep, Down & Dirty is a perfect example of how Müller shows scenes that daily take place in all major European cities, but in almost all cases are unperceived by the general public.
The capital of this European country where these photos were taken has a very long history of graffiti and therefore the train companies have taken extensive security measures. These range from putting up cameras and sensors, as well as having security personnel accompanied with German shepherd dogs guarding the subways 24/7. Therefore a lot of dedication is needed to access the parked trains. The writers have to face their own fears and physical obstacles just to paint for a few minutes, deep under the ground. In this specific case, slipping is not an option. The pipe leads to a ladder, which connects to another ladder, all in all a 12 meter steep abyss.
Previously the uninvolved observer might have recognized the act of scribbling ones name somewhere without permission as a prank, a malum prohibitum, something that conflicts with current laws but is not necessarily distasteful. In case of this extreme variation of painting graffiti however, the viewer most likely doesn’t have a neutral stance. Chances are high that outsiders regard this as malum in se, something clearly in conflict with common moral standards and thus worthy of prosecution.
Müller is one of the first photographers to document this in its raw essence.
Vandals & Public Delivery
Various projects have been conducted together. Above is a 5x10m mosaic print made out of ten thousands of photos from Nils Müller’s private archive, shown in Linz, Austria.