A train hopper's photos

NewImageNewImageWhen Mike Brodie was 17, he hopped his first train and instantly fell in love with the freedom of riding the rails, sans ticket. Shortly thereafter, in 2004, he came upon an old instant camera and quickly earned his nickname of The Polaroid Kidd. Eventually, he "upgraded" to a 1980s camera and 35 millimeter film but continued to ride the rails and document what he saw. The result is a raw, gritty, beautiful, and often inspiring collection of snapshots now compiled into a book, A Period of Juvenile Prosperity.

You can also see a selection of these photographs at Mike Brodie Photography. (via So Bad So Good, thanks Dave Gill!)


    1. I thought that was one of the strongest photos: a woman casually displaying, on white cotton drawers, the blood that flows from her body for several days every month. Menstruation is just a fact of life. An occasionally messy one, but a completely ordinary one that is a frequent, healthy, regular occurrence.

      I thought  the casual display of that perspective was a refreshing response to the major source of freak-out, shame, ostracism, anxiety and profit that is menstruation in current western society.

      1. Yessir.  Nail on the head.  FWIW, I’m seeing more and more activists publishing fotos where they show their (or fake) menstrual blood.  Loved this pic because it looks like a big old fuck you instead of a planned and posed foto. 

  1.  I’ve been working on a documentary about people like this for about 4 years now. We interviewed the Kodak Kid, who I’m sure is unrelated.

    1.  The Kodak Kid is a tagger, a person who leaves iconic images and phrases on rail cars.  There’s a marvelous, huge world of taggers, foamers, benchers and other marvelous persons out in the world of trains.  Me, I’m a happy, hapless foamer and bencher, and a huge fan of the Colossus of Roads.

  2. The photo of the child breastfeeding…makes me want to scream “grow up” at the mother. Time to get off the rails, clean up, get a job and provide for your child.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, but you never know the whole story from a photograph.

      Either way, I’ll be wondering about that kid’s life for a while.

    2. I amazed at your ability to telepathically divine that she’s in that situation of her own accord and not, for example, running from an even worse situation. I keep trying to read minds, but it never works for some reason. What’s your secret?

      1. She is.

        Even if she was escaping an even worse situation, I believe a portion of my tax dollars go towards funding social programs and shelters to help just such individuals.  If not, my charitable contributions certainly do.  Though I can’t say for certain such services exist in her original place of domicile, chances are there was one reasonably close by.  At any rate, it seems to follow that hopping a freight train with a nursing age child is not an advisable mode of transportation, even when seeking said services elsewhere.  The dangers are to numerous to list.  

        Hopping a train is a choice one must actively make, whether in an escape attempt or otherwise.  So she is there of her own accord.

        There are places that can help.  Run to them, not away from where ever you were.

        1. That child is not small and the mother looks quite young. Expecting her to know where to find help may be unrealistic. I agree that train-hopping is no environment to raise a child, but screaming at someone based on a photograph is rather counterproductive. I could think of many back-stories for an uneducated teenage mom to be fleeing without recourse or reference, but I don’t know that any of them apply, so I keep my speculations to myself.

          1. There was no screaming.

            I expect that those whom opt to reproduce and retain custody of their child are at least able to identify essential services for themselves or their offspring, particularly if they are unwilling or unable to provide these services without assistance.  
            If this is unrealistic, dare I say our gene pool is in for a rather unfortunate and potentially devastating algae bloom.

            But you are correct.  We are both speculating to a certain degree.  For all we know, this mother is there because she wants to be.  Either way, some really poor decisions were made.  I think that much can be agreed upon.

          2. No screaming, but PLENTY of judgement about a woman you don’t know.  “We are both speculating to a certain degree.”

            No, you’re speculating to the full degree.

            Either way, you don’t know what decisions she made or did not make, so you can’t really say “some poor really poor decisions were made.”

            I get the feeling, though, that someone like you would still make the statement “some poor really poor decisions were made” even if you knew for certain that she was trying to escape an abusive relationship.

            “Either way, some really poor decisions were made.”

            This is a statement. No “probably” or “perhaps”. So where is your evidence?

            So many stupid claims today, with no fucking evidence. On the internet?! NEVER!

          3. Dear Marilove,

            Hopping a freight train with a small child is by all definitions a really poor decision.  I can’t even begin to list all of the endangerments contained within that sole decision.

            And there is photographic evidence to document said lapse in judgement. 

            No speculation required.

            And yes — poor decisions can be made at any junction in life. The initial circumstance does not provide an excuse for all subsequent shitty situations, contrary to what the legal system would have you believe.

          4. There was no screaming.

            Au contraire, mon frère. Quoth nikkos:

            The photo of the child breastfeeding…makes me want to scream “grow up” at the mother.

            Emphasis added.

            Either way, some really poor decisions were made.  I think that much can be agreed upon.

            Yes, I’m simply not convinced those choices were necessarily all the mother’s.

          5. @google-6d60ad0f26ed7ad7a97e6f0d263db2ed:disqus  Interesting that the MAN who helped FATHER the child wasn’t once mentioned by you.  Not surprising, though.

          6.  Uh, your main point of speculation is that there is infant train-hopping at all. No “photographic evidence to document said lapse in judgement.” That photo is of a child and mother laying on the sand. No infants on trains in any of the pics. You are requiring a lot of speculation here.
            The leading cause of death for teenagers (13-19) is driving an automobile, do you chastise parents who let their kids drive so whole-heartedly?

    3.  Funny. She’s giving her kid a better nutritional start to life than many “nice and clean” middle class formula mums. Good on her.

        1. Even if there is, it’ll still be better than the damage formula does (yes, there’s data to back that up).

          1. Really?  There’s data to back that up?  So why didn’t you back it up?
            Yay!  More shaming women and mothers in response to a comment shaming a woman and mother! You’re so edgy.

            And don’t forget the specific data that backs up your explicit claim that formula is WORSE than breastfeeding while high on meth. Since you did make that claim, and then made a point to state that there is data to back your stupid, ridiculous, boneheaded claim up.

            I’ll wait. Should I grab a magazine? Maybe War and Peace?

          2. Guess what: I’ll shame fathers who smoke in their kids’ bedroom as well? Or is shaming people for doing shameful things no longer allowed?

          3. @disqus_wikCZAHcrA:disqus  That isn’t something you can compare.

            Also, surprise! No actual data as you claimed.

          1. Thank you.

            Your contribution is greatly appreciated.  

            Assumptions can go both ways, much to the chagrin of many.

        2. Assuming there isn’t any meth present. (Not saying there is.)

          No speculation required.

          How’s your cognitive dissonance going?

          1. You should work in government pr, what with your abilities at assembling snippets from different conversations and contexts to craft a new statement to suit your purposes and all.

          2. Remember how we just had that e-mail conversation about you not being a dick?

    4. Time to get off the rails

      That picture doesn’t show her on any train.  Looks like they are lying in sand somewhere.  Could it be you’re making too many assumptions here?

    5. Jeez, you had me all expecting to see a small child on a freight train – all you know is that a photographer who was riding the rails, at one point hung out on the beach in the company of a nursing mother (actually you don’t even know that – could be shared parenting, breastfeeding surrogacy, etc.).

    6. Totally agree. I was subject to a period of severe poverty when I was a child and it strikes me as being terribly unfair to the kid. It’s one thing to live hobo life if you’re not a parent but quite another if you have a child.

  3. All politics and related bullshit aside, these are some really striking images.  I’m considering purchasing a copy.

  4. Over the course of the day, I’ve created a back-story about the “nursing mother” photo:

    Michelle used to run with her friends on the trains. She ran away from an abusive situation early in her teens and grew up quick riding the rails with her friends. One day, in southern Arizona, one of the group got sick and it was voted that Michelle should go into town to get some ibuprofen with a little of the money they’d made picking blackberries. While checking out, she realized that she’d left the money fifteen miles back at camp. She almost cried thinking of the trip she’d have to make again, under the burning Arizona sun, when suddenly a customer saw her and helped her out. He asked her about her situation and offered to buy them more supplies. After a round of coffee, he took her back to camp where she announced that she’d be leaving the group and staying for awhile with her new friend.

    Fast forward two years: Micheal turned out to be a Nobel laureate who was horribly burned in an accident while trying to find a cure for Ellis Van Creveld syndrome. Despite his horrid appearance, Michelle thought he was the most sincere person she’d ever met, and (after a shower) he thought Michelle was the most beautiful girl he’d ever known. They fell in love and eventually, gave birth to Mitchell.

    They still live in Arizona and occasionally, true to form Micheal, let’s her old pals stay with them while passing through. Their favorite activity is laying out under the sun on Michelle’s old tarp, where she and her friends regale Micheal and Mitchell with stories of their adventures. One day, Mitchell hopes to become a train engineer.

  5. These look like stills from some unmade weird-ass Harmony Korine/Larry Clark/Early Gus Van Sant film.  One I wouldn’t mind seeing, too.

Comments are closed.