Photographer turns camera on teenage ‘freighthoppers’


Mike Brodie spent five years riding freight trains across America, returning with an astonishing visual record of the teenage ‘freighthoppers’ that travel the USA illegally, by rail. Without any formal training in photography, Brodie began  documenting his experiences after finding a discarded Polaroid camera behind a car seat.

As a way of keeping in contact with the people he met while traveling, he started posting images to various websites under the name ‘The Polaroid Kidd’, and a selection of his photographs, spanning 2003-8 have finally been collected in a new book ‘A Period of Juvenile Prosperity‘, published by Twin Palms. 

Photograph: Mike Brodie

According to an interview published by The Guardian, of the teenagers that he met while travelling, ‘a lot of the kids I knew have since gone back to their old lives. It was something they did for whatever reason before they settled down. Some were running away, some were out for adventure. It’s like being homeless by choice, I guess, but, living like that you learn a lot of American values like self-reliance, independence.’ 

Mike Brodie no longer takes photographs. After training at the Nashville Auto Diesel College he now works as a diesel engine mechanic. In his words ‘a good, solid career’.

We think his work is amazing. You can see more of it at his website.



stunning work


Some truly great images there. He certainly has the eye.


Jeez. I saw this in Russia, but never thought this also exists in the U.S.


The power of a camera and someone who sees things! No wonder people get afraid when they see someone with a camera!


i like photography that takes you places, literally or figuratively.

seems these images do both.


Rich Niemeyer

It’s not the camera…who cares? If you have ever worked with runaways, you would understand most of their stories are horrific. They are NOT LOSERS. They are kids trying to survive, with emotional or mental issues, abuse or other maltreatment. They are hard to look at (the photos) as they represent a component of hidden America. I applaud Mike Brodie for taking and posting them. It makes us look at a piece of our culture we try to ignore. I understand why he probably put his camera down. Engaging in the pain is more than most can handle. Thank you Mr. Brodie. Tough post for a camera enthusiast site.

Scott Birch

Only possible with the latest APS-C or M4/3 one of those lousy compacts with those tiny sensors couldn’t have taken these pics I’ll bet they look suitably wonderful at 100% crop hey the bokeh could have been better blah blah blah ouch that hurt ..


They were actually recorded on film. However, the power of those images has obviously nothing to do with gear.


“Mike Brodie no longer takes photographs…

After training at the Nashville Auto Diesel College he now works as a diesel engine mechanic. In his words ‘a good, solid career”.

Aye, carumbah!



One of his photographs on his website can literally be called a pedophile photograph, it is an underskirt photo of an underage girls bloodied underwear, an EXTREMELY inappropriate photograph that screams “call the cops”.


If you think the photograph that I believe you’re referring to is in any way, shape or form sexual, I would claim that says more about you than the photographer.

And if the girl in the photograph is a day under 18, I’ll eat my hat.

Scott Birch

I thought that one a bit beyond the pale myself. Powerful pic, but … no. It’s an awesome collection of pictures though.


I agree with WellyNZ. The young WOMAN in the photograph is hardly a child. And the photograph is not even sexual. She is likely more street smart than the vast majority of suit and tie wearing adults, I would wager, based on the powerful messages being given by these photos. I bet she could kick a lot of our butts, literally. So, it is one thing to dislike it or consider it in poor taste, but to call it a reason to get authorities involved? It is this attitude that is precisely the problem. Let’s not desperately and irrationally cry for big brother to come ‘protect us from ourselves’ anymore then we have collectively done so already.


Excellent solution. Call in the authority to protect the people the authority already failed to protect. I see it so clearly now.

I originally interpreted the photo as “sanitary products are hard to come by when you illegally ride the freight train”, and I don’t think that’s a pleasant situation whether you’re 12 or 40.

But if you wan’t to give it a pedo meaning, I’d go with “escaping the ‘protection’ of authority”.


Pedophilia is “a primary or exclusive sexual interest toward prepubescent children”. If a girl is already menstruating, she is outside the reach of pedophiles… Get your definitions straight, Anepo.


Perhaps you don’t like this photo because of its context rather than its content? Censoring documents of dire social issues using such pathetic excuses has been done before, you know.

Bangers and Mash

Tells a lot about the ungodly society we live in.


These kids need prayer.

bed bug

Somehow, I think they need a lot more than mumbles to a false deity…,


Power photographs. A visual statement of the concept of down and out in . . .


Great photos


What an astonishing collection of socio-documentary photography.
Thank you to Mike Brodie for providing this “reality check” about what’s beyond the US west coast, “demeuré” coffee-shop screenwriters and alienated gadget users.
(…to the attention of “Connect”).
PS: The first photo linked here is an instant photography icon, if I ever saw one.


Wonderful images and a great story. Thank you, DPReview.

Maybe it’s me but it seems we don’t see quite as much photography of teens as in the ’60s & ’70s. Can someone point out the Bruce Davidsons & Mary Ellen Marks of the current generation? Yes, I would like to know (other than Mike Brodie.)

keith james taylor

wonderful pics but a difrent story in the Guardan for example all the photographs where taken with a Nikcon F3 ” so never let the facts spoile a good story”. Thanks for the introduction to this fasinating body of woork

Barney Britton

He started with polaroid, and when the film became unavailable he moved to 35mm. I didn’t embellish this story with too many technical details because… I don’t really think it matters 🙂


I had to look that up too, because although I really like the work… many didn’t look possible from an old discarded polaroid. He actually went through 3 polaroid cameras until settling on the SX70. Then switched to the Nikon 35mm after they stopped making the Polaroid film.

Great stuff though… doesn’t matter which camera he was using but it did imply that he did it all with an abandoned Polaroid, when that really isn’t the case. Took a good deal of digging to even discover that, so it’s likely they’re indeed letting the Polaroid vagueness sweeten the story in general. Worked… got my attention.

Very good images regardless.


I went to his website and I thought plenty of the photographs have good image quality which I thought couldn’t possible with a polaroid or even a digital camera.


“Brodie began documenting his experiences after finding a discarded Polaroid camera behind a car seat” – someone must have also left him boxes of Polaroid instant films because they are expensive like hell.


reading the article in the Guardian, turns out all the photos are taken using with a Nikon F3.

I wonder how he managed to keep his camera during hitch hiking.


So he took a bunch of pictures of dirty slackers and losers while he was one; I don’t see the brilliance. It’s not quite Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand, Doisneau, Friedlander, Lange, Stieglitz, etc.


I agree, I’d much rather look at another stellar set of drooling babies and photos of someone’s pepper encrusted salmon that they ate on vacation for dinner. Now that is F8%#ing meaningful!!(sarcasm)


hater. this photos are amazing.


I’d rather see more photos of Yosemite. There just aren’t enough.

four under

So where is your wonderful portfolio. I am sure that it would entrance me.


meh, nevermind


Dpnick is just a st*pid right winger extremist, ignore him.

Scott Birch

Jeez DPnick, what does it take? By all means, show us better.


@DPNick Then you should also take up being a diesel mechanic and hang up your camera, because these are some of the most powerful images I’ve ever seen.


Good photography. The first shot on this page is fantastic. I spent a lot of time in my youth hitchhiking.


The dark side to this is what people will do when they are desperate. Prostitution, disease and being prone to being victims of assault ect are common.


One of my relatives lives this lifestyle. Every time I see him, he’s been recently robbed. He’s been beat up more than once and propositioned for prostitution. He loves the traveling lifestyle though, and to him, the risk is worth it I guess. He could hold a job if he wanted to, but it just doesn’t appeal to him.


It’s not the camera!


Great approach to photography………I like that he gave up photography for now as it no longer serves a purpose.


A lot of these types end up here in Cali. Raw images and worthy of notice.




I’m glad the tradition lives on. When you are out there without a net, you grow up real fast.

Thanks for the photos.

mike kobal

stunning and emotional work, images one could never capture as an outsider, reminds me of Lary Clark’s Tulsa


Great pics!

Source Article from