Mike Brodie

The journey is the reward

At the end of the 19th century, migrant workers in North America began to use freight trains as a free means of transport to get from one town to the next on the search for jobs. In the following decades and especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of these freight train nomads criss-crossed the country. They were given the name “hobo”. It stood for a way of life outside social conventions, for adventure and freedom, but also for loneliness and poverty. Today, it is firmly anchored in the American culture, not without thanks to authors like Jack London, John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac, and is immortalized in countless folk songs.

Mike Brodie, born in 1985, traveled on a freight train for the first time when he was 17 years old. Over the next few years, driven by a longing for freedom, boundless curiosity and the desire to explore an alternative lifestyle, he hopped freight trains through America for months at a time, covering a total distance of 50,000 miles. After a year of travel, he began to take photographs with a Polaroid camera of his impressions and the lives of his free-spirited friends. After years of shooting, Brodie created a large series of photographs and the book “A Period of Juvenile Prosperity”. The title jars at first glance, after all, his images do not hide the fact that life on the trains is hard. Yet at the same time, they perceptively and poetically tell of the fascination of this rebellious lifestyle and the freedom it offers, which comes across as being immeasurably valuable. With an unerring sense of composition and his use of colour and light, Brodie creates sentimental tableaus that reveal an unobtrusive intimacy. These almost romantic portraits of his “train-hopping” family also bring a timeless calm to a world in which everything is in constant motion.

Young people of Brodie’s generation are driven to ride the trains not by the need to find work, but above all by the desire for adventure. Most of the people he met settled down after a few months or years of riding the rails. As did Brodie himself, who has since given up traveling and photography, and currently works as a diesel mechanic operating out of his own shop in Oakland, California.

Biographical information

1985

born in Mesa, Arizona, USA

2004

begins photographing with a Polaroid camera while hitchhiking and train hopping across the United States, working under the moniker of The Polaroid Kidd

2008

receives the Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers, San Francisco, California

2009

ceases work as a photographer and studies at the Nashville Auto Diesel College, Nashville, Tennessee

2013

publishes his first photobook, A Period of Juvenile Prosperity

2015

his second photobook, Tones of Dirt and Bone, is published

lives and works as a diesel mechanic in West Oakland, California, USA.