Mike Brodie 'A Period Of Juvenile Prosperity' a Glimpse Of Absolute Freedom


There is always train hopping.

Everyone has a deep desire to escape from society. In some it is stronger than others, but it is there in everyone. Karl Marx (I know, Marx) developed a theory that human nature is unified only in our need to labor on nature for survival. Human nature becomes a product of labor and, being human, the more we build on nature, the more we change ourselves.

We are a species in constant building from our imaginations and in constant building over what people have already created. We are trapped in an ever-growing society in both scope and complexity.

It is through this that there exists a desire to escape in some way.

To some, the search for solitude means taking to the woods of Maine for 27 years like Christopher Knight or going off to see America like Chris McCandless, a story with a sad ending many are familiar with from Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. There is a whole spectrum on what disconnecting means for each person, but there is indeed some intrinsic need to escape and it will inevitably manifest itself in some way.

It is the escape that made Walden, that made On the Road, that made A Walk in the Woods, that made Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and that made Fight Club. It is the desire to burn everything down until there is nothing but the basic human left, simply living with an abandon of everything else around them; even if it is for something as small as a one-hour jog.

A recent set of photographs made me think. They are photos by Mike Brodie from his book A Period of Juvenile Prosperity. When Mike was a teenager, he met a punk-rock girl. While sitting on her porch one night, he met a train-hopper.

Two weeks later, at the age of 17, he hopped on his first train.

"I had no idea what I was doing, but I just got on a train and went somewhere." -Mike Brodie  

From the series "A Period of Juvenile Prosperity" #0924, 2006-2009 C-Print

Mike Brodie, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York 

It is not often that I get moved to write about something immediately. But, this world of train hopping did it. The piece brought about a distinct memory that seems to have dug itself into the recesses of my mind. I was walking down Main Street in Keene, New Hampshire after work one evening and I ran into a shabby couple with a dog advertising on a sign that they needed a ride. They were sacked out on a bit of grass off the sidewalk with a couple of bags and a guitar. The guy came up to me and asked if I knew where he could hop on a train out of Keene as they had driven in with a friend from another town.

They told me they had been train-hopping for the past year with no destination or goals in mind. While seeing two people asking for a ride on the side of the road didn’t immediately awaken a sense of wonder in me, something about the absolute freedom that comes with getting rid of everything really resonated with me.

To just walk away from status and money and technology and routine and replace it with concrete basic interaction really puts a perspective on what living means. Are we here or in here?

(The hand gestures made that a bit clearer, I pointed to the floor when I wrote, “here” and I pointed at my laptop when I wrote, “in here”)

From the series "A Period of Juvenile Prosperity" #5060, 2006-2009 C-Print

Mike Brodie, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

The idea of train hopping and Mike Brodie’s photographs has the feel of a bygone era that is still very much alive and immortalized. In my mind, I think “train-hopping” and I think of hobos with a sack on a stick and in reality, that’s totally what it is. Train-hoppers are a stereotype for a reason. But, it is a snapshot of a freedom that exists at the very core of being once everything else is burned away.

Unproductive? Yes.

Escapism? Sure.

Pointless? Quite possibly.

But it is real.

There is a distinctive freedom that is captured in the photos that might be fleeting, even while train hopping. But, it is a freedom that exists nonetheless and it can only be engaged when one is completely separated, even for a moment, from the world that history has created and we continue to contribute to. It is what Jack London refers to in Call of the Wild as the paradox of living:

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.

From the series "A Period of Juvenile Prosperity" #5286, 2006-2009 C-Print

Mike Brodie, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

If anything, the photo series shows that the world is still a very big place and there is no right way to do anything. There is still a world beyond the Internet and tourism books and department stores. The scope of human experience has never been any bigger than it is now and quality can exist in anything.

If a bunch of dirty hippies in boxcars don’t awaken your spirit as they did mine, at least take away that we can all still wake up and choose to be our own person.

Or to put it more visually:

From the series "A Period of Juvenile Prosperity" #5126, 2006-2009 C-Print

Mike Brodie, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

“I don’t miss time spent on the trains that much because I can get back on anytime; it’s a free country.” -Mike Brodie