Mike Brodie was only 17 when he first started rail-hopping in 2002. From the very beginning of his time on the road, he began snapping pictures of his fellow train-hoppers with a friend’s Polaroid SX-70, switching to an old 35mm camera after the Polaroid film was discontinued. After five years, 50,000 miles, 46 states and 200 rolls of film, Brodie came back with a vivid photographic record of a teen subculture living a perilous life on the tracks, distilling it into his first photobook A Period of Juvenile Prosperity.
Brodie hopped his first train close to his home in Pensacola, Florida with a plan to visit a friend in Mobile, Alabama, but it took him in the opposite direction to Jacksonville, Florida. This three-day journey sparked a much bigger adventure, as he soon decided to abandon one life to discover another. Crisscrossing the U.S. for years, he documented his experiences and his adopted family, capturing a wild richness to those years. He created one of the most impressive archives of personal travel photography, offering a fascinating glimpse into a subculture of simplicity, adventure, freedom and camaraderie. As he wrote, the book “also documents a period of transition in [his] life—just after puberty and just before manhood.”
Brodie’s images take us on a journey with a band of outsiders—punks, hobos, squatters, vagabonds and American youth in search of adventure—all choosing the freedom of a transitory and nomadic existence. We see trains with the world flying by and youth clambering onto them, sleeping and living rough, bound together by friendship and love. Documenting a decidedly American adventure, his images are exciting, authentic and raw, yet intimate, honest and nostalgic. They capture the dangers and joys of travel with plenty of romance mixed in with the dirt.
Brodie has since given up photography and settled down as a car mechanic, having graduated from the Nashville Auto Diesel College. However, his brief spell of fierce creativity has placed him among the great documentarians of U.S. travel photography. In the book’s opening essay, Brodie writes: “I don’t want to be famous, but I hope this book is remembered forever.”
The third edition of Mike Brodie’s A Period of Juvenile Prosperity can be purchased in the Twin Palms Publishers online shop for $75.