Mike Brodie / 2008

Inspired by the rich experience of train-hopping and informed by the instant feedback of a Polaroid camera, Mike Brodie self-curated a remarkable collection of travel photography, documenting the life of America’s train-hopping youth.

The fifth Baum Award was presented to Mike Brodie in 2008 under the curatorial direction of Sharon Tanenbaum of SF Camerawork.

3018_Print Ready

#3018, from A Period of Juvenile Prosperity

Brodie was born in 1985 in Mesa, Arizona, and moved to Pensacola, Florida, when he was 15. At age 18, he was ready to leave his childhood behind and explore the United States by train. He hopped his first train to Jacksonville, Florida, with little more than a Polaroid camera and a pack of film given to him by a friend (after he’d found it on the back seat of her car). With this he embarked on a journey that would last five years and take him over 50,000 miles back-and-forth across the U.S. and deep into an American sub culture of train-hopping youth.

Through his sojourn, Brodie has shared with us what’s been called, “one of the few, true collections of American travel photography.”  His photography, spanning 2004 to 2009, documents his life on the edges of society with images that are raw and revealing. As a 20-year old photographer then living in Philadelphia, he had earned the nickname, “the Polaroid Kid,” because up to that point in his life he had only shot Polaroid film on cameras found in thrift shops–until 2008, when the film was discontinued.

4832_Print Ready

#4832, from A Period of Juvenile Prosperity

Brodie later transitioned to 35mm film and a Nikon he bought for $150 for the series of photographs entitled, That Rockaway Summer: Boys and Girls of Modern Days Railways. The series documents the lives of young people who hop trains and who are, he says, “one of the most important, overlooked, and temporary underground cultures of modern times.”

The archive of over 7,000 photos that make up Brodie’s work is for him a personal record of an exhilarating time in his life, and for the rest of us a glimpse into the life of train-hopping youth.

5065_Print Ready

#5065, from A Period of Juvenile Prosperity

Since receiving the Baum Award in 2008, his photographs have been published in two books, A Period of Juvenile Prosperity (2013), his work from 2004 to 2006; and, Tones of Dirt and Bone (2014), his work from 2006 to 2009. Both were published by Twin Palms Publishers, with limited additions printed by TBW Books, and were followed by gallery exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles. Following the publications, Brodie’s work was also shown internationally at the Galerie Le Filles du Calvaire, Paris, France (2014), as well as at the Tokyo International Photography Festival in 2015, Tokyo, Japan.

After several years of the train-hopping life, Brodie went to school at the Nashville Auto Diesel College and has been working as a mechanic ever since. Brodie has stated that he does not plan on returning to photography, despite (and perhaps in spite of) the wide praise and recognition his work has received. In 2006, he wrote: “The photos? I want people to see them, just as I want to tell someone a good story. Nobody enjoys boredom.”  As of 2016, he lives and works in West Oakland, California.

Credits – 2008 Baum Award

Host: SF Camerawork
Curator: Chuck Mobley
Jury: Bill Arning, Director of Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH), former Curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center
Chuck Mobley, Curator, SF Camerawork
Eugene E. Trefethen, Jr., Chair Art History, Mills College
Larry Rinder, Director of Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA), former Dean of Graduate Studies, California College of the Arts
Moira Roth, Eugene E. Trefethen, Jr. Professor of Art History, Mills College
Susette S. Min, Associate Professor, Asian American Studies and Art History, University of California, Davis


Baum Award