JTF (just the facts): A total of 30 color photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung against white walls in the East and West gallery spaces. All of the works are chromogenic color prints, made between 2006 and 2009. The prints are sized either 17x 24 (in editions of 7+3AP) or 14×20 (in editions of 10+3AP). A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Twin Palms Publishers (here). (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: While road trip projects litter the history of photography, Mike Brodie’s images of train hopping across America merit attention with the best of this genre. His pictures mix the excitement of youthful adventure and the quiet intimacy of shared experience, dousing the whole journey in a healthy dose of dirt and train grease and filtering it through the hardened eyes of John Steinbeck. Empty hopper cars, golden grasslands, and trackside gravel give texture to the lives of a loose band of wandering souls, whose stories play out as the trains rumble along.
While Brodie’s subjects could hardly be grubbier, with blackened hands, greasy sleeping bags, rag tag backpacks, and grimy clothes, his photographs are consistently elegant, finding visual poetry without sacrificing honesty or authenticity. His camera peers down from the top of a train car, discovering two friends sleeping below; geometric edges are flattened into rectangles and bodies are innocently curled up with tenderness and vulnerability, a Hunter S. Thompson book peeking out from underneath a slumbering limb. In another image, three travelers share food while sitting on the back of a moving train; Brodie has cropped their heads out, leaving an interlocked tangle of dirty legs and arms, with the blurred rush of track below. Fresh blackberries in a hat, a swirl of wind blown hair, the golden yellow afternoon sun, a bloody pair of underpants, the headlights of an engine, they all provide the raw material for fleeting, but memorable vignettes.
In general, Brodie’s visual sense for point of view and perspective is consistently innovative – a worm’s eye view of cowboy boots, a look down at a risky friend hanging off the back of train energetically giving him the finger, an upward view of climbing over a barbed wire fence, the tilted framing of a hopper car, the divergent angles of road and track, they all add interest and excitement to his photographs. Nearly every image in this smartly edited group not only documents a subculture with openness and verve, it offers unexpected compositional originality in its craft.
I like the sense of feral wildness in these pictures, of kids searching for something out there in the world and finding others along the way to share a bed or a meal. There is some kinship to the work of Ed Templeton to be found here, but the slice of youth culture is different, more transitory and relentlessly nomadic. The struggles and hardships of Brodie’s uprooted existence are clearly real, but he has found a way to capture its subtle pleasures and learnings with equal success. Even at their most subdued and personal, these photographs crackle with life.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced in tiered editions, starting at $3500 for the 14×20 prints and $5000 for the 17×24 prints. Brodie’s work has not yet reached the secondary markets with any regularity, so gallery retail is likely the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up. A concurrent show of Brodie’s work is on view at M+B Fine Art in Los Angeles (here).