In 2008, Mike Brodie’s photos of American train hoppers made their rounds all over the internet and the art gallery circuit. ‘The Polaroid Kidd’ produced his work with a sympathetic eye as an insider to the lifestyle. Like many young people, he was enthralled by fantasies of life on the rails at a young age, and set out at 18 with a polaroid as well as a 35mm camera.
Brodie made a significant contribution to documentary photography with his romanticized depictions of train hopping. The photos were important because they were done well, and were some of the first images of the contemporary ‘crusty’ train riding culture to make waves on the internet. (Since then, it’s arguable that the most significant internet reflection on train-culture has been made by the snarky tumblr collection, ‘Look at this fucking oogle.’)
I remember going to check out his exhibition in Bushwick a few years ago, an old-timey collaborative installation with Swoon. The photos were really impressive, certainly good in their own right and not just for shock value, although the subject matter certainly helped their popularity. I had to wonder though, who the hell was Mike Brodie, and was he selling out his scene by selling the photos in art galleries?
I tried to find Mike’s contact info online to no avail. He’s represented by some galleries in case you’re interested in purchasing the book, or a print, but there’s no personal contact info posted.
Then in an article by Fader, I found out that he gave a lot of the money to his mom:
He didn’t keep track of the money or particularly care to have it. He gave most of it to his mom and kept riding, his resolve in the face of success owed in part to his time on trains.
Brodie even dropped a specific number, in a 2009 interview with the Pensacola Independent (he got into riding trains while growing up there):
”I got the e-mail when I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, saying I had just won $10,000 and the award for Best New Photographer,” Brodie says. “I thought it was junk mail and I deleted it.”
It turns out Mike Brodie isn’t chasing art world fame or exploiting his subculture- he’s currently working for Union Pacific in Oakland, working on freight trains instead of hopping rides on them. He’s working on a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering and wants to save up money and have a kid. He says he doesn’t take photos that often anymore either. I guess Mike has chosen to speak through his actions, and hopefully he’s looking the other way when he sees the younger generation of kids hopping fences and sleeping on his trains.