When Mike Brodie was a young teen he moved with his mother from Arizona to Florida. They stayed with family before securing a place of their own a few blocks from a major railroad line. Years later, Brodie moved into a “punk house” with his first girlfriend. Washing dishes in front of a kitchen window one evening, Brodie saw a beautiful young couple sitting next to one another, riding on the back of a train car. Brodie knew that was a ride he wanted to take. He found an abandoned Polaroid camera stuffed behind a car seat on one of his early train journeys. The camera became a constant companion and the photographer’s diary as he documented his travels across the country. Brodie soon earned his “The Polaroid Kid” nickname among the runaways and hobos and radical punks he met on his adventures. He left home at 18, and he and his camera rode the rails between 2004-2008. Brodie traded-in his traveling ways for a career in the trades when he enrolled and graduated from Nashville Auto Diesel College (Lincoln Tech) in 2009. His breakthrough photo book, A Period of Juvenile Prosperity debuted in 2013. Brodie’s images of young punk nomads and outsiders of all kinds make him one of the most unique and affecting American photographers of the first decade of this new century.
Brodie and his far-flung community found adventure and wonder in the outskirts of America during the height of post-9-11 paranoia. The news of those days was grim and the second term of George W. Bush went from “Mission Accomplished” to economic disaster, a home foreclosure crisis and the Occupy Wall Street movement. But, Brodie’s images are picturesque and mysterious. The posed portraits bring an unexpected formality to his ragtag subjects, but they’re loose and playful enough to also capture the poignancy of a life on the rails. The Polaroid’s SX-70 prints are warm and saturated. And Brodie’s images are unabashedly romantic – intimate portraits of beautiful, young and wizened outsiders in gorgeous and strange locations, unchained from modern responsibilities, ties and obligations. Many of Brodie’s subjects are also runaways or addicts or suffering with emotional trauma and mental illness, echoing romanticism’s embrace of isolation and melancholy.
Brodie’s great theme is the transience of time, and the concreteness of his instant photography prints emphasizes the feeling of capturing passing moments. The Polaroid Kid is a new collection of facsimile Polaroid prints Brodie curated from an archive of some of his earliest works. The 50 prints stack into a sturdy grey-board box that’s silkscreen printed with Brodie’s “The Polaroid Kid” graffiti tag. The prints include a selection of portraits and scenes that are emblematic of Brodie’s early train travel photos. We get sun-drenched faces, colorful train cars, hickey-covered necks, nude revelries, sweet doggies and countless cigarettes. Each print has been meticulously recreated from the scratches and stains to Brodie’s pencil-and-marker notes and titles on verso. The Polaroid Kid is a remarkably presented collection of Brodie’s work which has only become more resonant in the aftermath of an isolating pandemic.
The Polaroid Kid is available now from Stanley Barker