hitch-hiker and polaroid kid, mike brodie, demystifies the idea of the american nomad
Mike Brodie earned the title of Polaroid Kid with his first book A Period of Juvenile Prosperity, now his photographs of train-hoppers and nomads that laid the foundation of this, have been collated into a new tome – Tones of Dirt and Bone.
When he was 17, Mike Brodie decided to illegally train hop his way to visit a friend in Alabama, but three days travelling in the wrong direction to Florida was the best mistake he ever made. He spent the next five years train-hopping, hitch-hiking and walking across the US, wandering it's plains by whatever means were free and documenting it all first on a Polaroid SX-70, earning him the internet tag, "Polaroid Kid," and then a 1980s, 35mm camera. Those romantic, bohemian images of the young outsiders he met on the road were collated into his first monograph, A Period of Juvenile Prosperity, published by Twin Palms in 2012. Now he's releasing a new book, Tones of Dirt and Bone. A unique look at the early photographic foundations which led to A Period of Juvenile Prosperity, Tones of Dirt and Bone chronicles Brodie's journey around America between 2004-2006 using the Time Zero film discontinued by Polaroid six years ago. We catch up with Mike to talk about being on the road and if he found what he was looking for…
Tones of Dirt and Bone is the foundation of your work in A Period of Juvenile Prosperity, how does it feel looking back at your early Polaroids?
Looking back at those Polaroids feels really good, it was so much fun taking those photos. It saddens me that the film was discontinued, I only had the opportunity to use it for the better part of two years! I always imagine what would have happened if I could have kept going with that series of photos, then again, my transition to 35mm gave me so many more possibilities with photo taking.
What made you want to publish your early work now?
It's just how the cards fell, and I think at the time, around 2006-7 I wasn't ready to go too mainstream with a published book, I was still going, searching for the train riding moments. Also, TBW Books soon after did a limited edition book of those images so I was content with that for a while and began to focus mostly on the 35mm.
What's the story behind the cover image?
Not much to tell, I was riding in a trailing locomotive cab just north of Pueblo, Colorado, on my way to Denver. I took a Polaroid through the engineer's door. October 5th.
This book is such a great look into your early experience traveling around America and the people you met, do you think you found what you were searching for?
Thank you! Good question, I did find it, now I am "on to the next thing." Everyday I look forward to the adventures life will bring me next.
What were some of the most memorable places you travelled across?
New Orleans to El Paso, TX. Summer 2005.
You have mentioned before you have mixed feelings about showing your work and having your work in books, do you still feel that way?
I do not, however I try to steer clear of some of the media outlets that just want to commodify this lifestyle. "The American Nomad" is an overly romanticised idea that is far-flung and short lived.
During your experience taking these photographs, by having the camera and trying to capture the moment, did you ever feel like merely an observer?
Yes, I always 100% felt like an observer, it was unfortunate, but how I felt. Now, by putting down the camera, I can be a 100% participant and really truly enjoy life.
Your work very much empathises with the people you were photographing, did you romanticise them intentionally?
I think I did, because at the time the lifestyle for me was very romantic. However, looking back I realise just how much time we all spent sitting around, doing nothing and wondering, what the hell are we going to do with the rest of our lives?
Do you still know any of the kids you photographed in A Period of Juvenile Prosperity or Tones of Dirt and Bone?
I'm out of touch with most of them, not all. I keep tabs on some folks but for the most part I don't know what anyone else is doing, probably the same as me, trying to get their life together.
Have you managed to settle down yet?
Do you think you'll pick up a camera again soon?
Text Rebecca Boyd-Wallis
Photography Mike Brodie