The Photographic Majesty of Mike Brodie

On April 10, 2013 by Evan Senn

Evan_MikeBrodie1Mike Brodie takes us on a documentary journey into vagabond adolescence and innocent gypsy adventures. The intimate moments of a group of homeless teenagers are gingerly recorded in “A Period of Juvenile Prosperity,” a romanticized glimpse of an exhibition that takes us into the lives of train-hopping hobo-youth. Brodie joined this life of uninhibited simple and honest life on the road while he documented the group’s journeys. Train-hopping, living without the amenities modern-day America insists we use in our lives and looking out for your tribe are humanistic joys and troubles that we often forget about.

In his first exhibition at M+B Fine Art, “Tones of Dirt and Bone” the similar jaunt into mystery and alternative lifestyles just lightly caress youth and natural beauty, while embracing the honesty and warm tones of humanity.

Brodie lives a humble life in California, working as diesel mechanic, a job that he currently pursues in Oakland with the same Evan_MikeBrodie2passion he approached to image-making. One year younger than myself, Brodie was born in 1985, raised somewhere between Phoenix, AZ and Pensacola, FL along with his younger brother, Jake, by a single working mother. “One might assume Brodie had little to lose when he hopped his first train at seventeen, but Brodie wasn’t escaping; he was searching,” says M+B of Brodie. Since that first train ride, Brodie has ridden over 50,000 miles through forty-six states, documenting the people and places he encountered on his journeys with his natural born gift, photography. From 2004 to 2006, Brodie shot exclusively on SX-70 Time-Zero film, earning him the moniker the “Polaroid Kidd,” a name he would tag on boxcars and walls. When Time-Zero film was discontinued, Brodie moved to more candid moments shooting with a 1980 Nikon F3 with 35mm film from 2006 to 2009. “The immediacy of the photograEvan_MikeBrodie3phic medium combined with Brodie’s innocence of spirit and raw approach provides a distinct style and authentic voice within the lexicon of photographic history that is so uniquely his own, while simultaneously characteristically American,” M+B stated.

The photographs in “A Period of Juvenile Prosperity” also document a period of transition in Brodie’s personal life—just after puberty, and just before manhood— when hitchhiking for the thrill of the open road, catching rides on freight trains bound for another nowhere town, eating the food left to rot by others and drinking the cheapest alcohol that crosses your lips seems like a perfectly logical and honest way to spend your days.

“Brodie’s tableau repurposes symbols of decline—trains, Polariods, 35mm film, thrift store clothes—into a seemingly alluring form of ad hoc glamour and freEvan_MikeBrodie4edom tinged with punk rock idealism. The characters drift through post-industrial America. The result: a balance of comeliness and crustiness, filth and beauty, all finely measured by movement, a desire to move on and, at some point, move out of the picture,” explains M+B. “Although Brodie was never trained, his photographs are an honest and sincere look at the practice of photography that can only come from historical unawareness of the medium. Unknowingly, Brodie’s images follow in the footsteps of photographers like Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Walker Evans and Nan Goldin.”

Evan_MikeBrodie5In our technologically efficient contemporary lives, Brodie’s photographs touch on the decline of an unencumbered life — hitchhiking and Polaroid cameras, thrift store clothes and begging for food. Brodie’s self-trained photography skills resonate with a natural eye for the poignant moments in life, with a subtext on the undeniable holes in the original American dream. That perfect American dream has been abandoned by our country’s youth. They have stolen it and modified it to fit our contemporary existence. There are now an abundance of American dreams—no one perfect and no one ideal. The subjects of the series appear driven by adventure, a voracious appetite for experience and excited curiosity, here associated with the disenfranchised youth that we may have forgotten about. As a generalized portrait of one side of our rogue generation, Brodie seeks to equate his narrative to a modern-day “Huckleberry Finn,” and it is glorious.

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