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.


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 ..


“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.

Bangers and Mash

Tells a lot about the ungodly society we live in.


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.


“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.


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.


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