In the '00s, the young photographer Mike Brodie captured the gritty youth subculture of freight train hoppers, showing the dirt, blood, and struggles of a tight-knit community of travellers on the open road.
In 2002, Brodie, then 17, began travelling the railways when he left his house without telling anyone, carrying only a few personal belongings. He returned home days later, obsessed with train-hopping culture.
“Sometimes I take a train the wrong way or...whatever happens a photo
will come out of it, so it doesn’t really matter where I end up.” – Mike Brodie
Brodie spent several years documenting a period of transition in his life, hitchhiking for the thrill of the open road, catching rides on freight trains bound for nowhere towns, drifting through post-industrial America. The images are like a modern interpretation of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
The people he met lived outside of society’s norms, gleaning society’s waste, eating food left to rot by others and drinking the cheapest alcohol they could find to support their chosen version of the American Dream.
Soon after Brodie began gaining fame for his images – he won the Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers in 2008 – he retreated into obscurity to become a diesel mechanic, a job he currently pursues in Oakland with the same passion he approached to image-making.
"I have ridden trains over 50,000 miles and taken over 7,000 photographs. I won first place and $10,000 in a photo contest. I gave the money to my mom. I got internet famous. I deleted my website and stopped taking photos, went back to school and became a diesel mechanic. I don't think much about being rich. I don't want to be famous but I hope this work is remembered forever." – Mike Brodie, 2012
Mike Brodie's latest publication, Tones of Dirt and Bone, is available from Twin Palms Publishers. Limited edition available through TBW Books. He has an exhibitions at M + B Gallery, Los Angeles and Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, opening April 2015.