Photographer Travels 50,000 Miles Across the US by Train Hopping


When photographer Mike Brodie was 17 years old, he had his first train hopping experience in his hometown of Pensacola, Florida. Over a number of days, that train would take him to Jacksonville, Florida and then back. It was as short trip, but sparked a lifelong passion for train hopping and exploration in Brodie.

Brodie would then spend more than 10 years exploring the United States through train hopping, hitchhiking, and walking. Throughout his journeys, he would document the lifestyle through photography. Images from 2006 through 2009 have now been compiled into a photo project titled, “A Period of Juvenile Prosperity.”

Since 2002, Brodie has covered more than 50,000 miles and visited 46 US states on over 170 different freight trains.

The photography started in 2004 after Brodie found a neglected Polaroid camera hidden behind a friend’s carseat. Images he shot using that camera became popular online, earning Brodie the nickname, “The Polaroid Kid.” Once Polaroid film was discontinued, Brodie switched to 35mm film and a more traditional camera.

His images offer a fascinating glimpse into a subculture of simplicity, adventure, freedom, and camaraderie.

















You can find more photos from this project over on Brodie’s website. The project has also been published as a 104-page hardcover photo book.

Image credits: Photographs by Mike Brodie, courtesy of TBWbooks

  • lidocaineus

    Never done it, but pretty familiar with the subculture. I will say… train hoppers smell really, really bad after doing it awhile. I mean you literally have no idea how bad a healthy but unwashed person can smell until you run into some of these characters :)

    Oh and some of these photos are bursting with narrative style.

  • derekdj

    I can’t say I’m a fan of the vagabond youth culture. I’ve see enough of those kids come through town every year, most of them are strung out, at the end of their ropes and out of all romantic notions of the nobility of wasted youth.

    Brodie’s photography is great though, he has an eye for composition and narration.

  • brandon

    while interesting, i’m sure his parents are very proud to have raised a hobo.
    why don’t we just give a camera to crack/meth heads and wait for the amazing stuff that’s sure to come back? really.

  • TSY87

    I agree with everyone else here… can’t really support/encourage that lifestyle however he really does have an eye for photography.

  • KH

    Looks like a fantastic journey. Sure, it’s not a lifestyle for everyone. But if everyone was exactly the same, this world would be far too dull.

  • Mansgame

    Wasn’t a photographer ticketed a while ago for taking pictures on a railroad track because it was trespassing? He was tracked down because of his pictures. How come this guy isn’t ticketed?

  • cacamilis

    The life of a well-travelled hobo, reminds me of ‘Into the Wild’

  • thatguy

    Hobo with a shotg- I mean, camera.

  • Joe Justice

    Dirty, dirty hobos.

  • tonyc0101

    I love this series, the quality of the photos, and the stories they tell. However, this is one of those subjects that can straddle the line between innocently documenting life and glorifying illegal (and dangerous) behavior.

  • Bryan

    Damn everyone here is so negative and insulting about this article. People should respect this guy for venturing out of the comfort zone and doing something different.. I think it’s an awesome idea, and surprisingly for a person with no photography background actually fairly well composed photos. I think the article is great, kudos to this guy for doing something different, something that should be respected if it’s a “hobo thing to do” or not. It’s art.

  • Dan

    Lots of great documentary photographers entrench themselves in their subjects world. The series has great intimacy that would be impossible to attain otherwise. A great set of pictures.

  • gochugogi

    Maybe because he lacks a permanent address?

  • lidocaineus

    Right. Because all photography is based on nice, clean cut subjects.

    Critique the work, and the social commentary prompted by the photos. You’re attacking the photographer (an invalid ad hominem attack) and then insulting him further by indicating we shouldn’t give cameras to those on the fringes of society.

    1) No one gave him a camera – he found one, then bought one.
    2) If you have a problem with the subject matter or photographs, by all means let’s here it. But don’t confuse tossing down judgement calls on the photographer himself from some ivory tower as criticism – that just makes you look ignorant and closed minded.

  • Richard

    Absolutely fantastic work. Thanks for posting this.

  • Libby Stack

    Yes, but they’re Nike wearing hobos.

  • Jason Kim

    AKA “Crusties”

  • nerdbomber

    I really like these photos. Shows another side of society you don’t normally get to see. This’ll definitely help this guy’s career in photography.

  • Redstart

    Get off your high horses, people. Too much whining and judging.

  • Gregor_Albrecht

    Wait – are you seriously comparing him to a meth head?! What went wrong in your life that you are hating on someone for doing what he loves?!

  • Bill E. Lytton

    Does the internet appreciate anything?

  • YEAH

    Some of you people have such sterile, boring, lifeless ideals, and I’m sure your work and your life reflects that.

  • The Spaceman

    The photographs look good, they also have a vintage/dramatic vibe to it. But I don’t agree with glorifying this dangerous behaviour.

  • ripley

    These photos make me want to go on an adventure.

  • kwak

    “Be a hobo and go with me from Hoboken to the sea.”

    Louis Thomas Hardin

  • brandon

    no, i see lots of nice clean cut crap all the time also. attacking “the photographer”? sorry, i thought i was just pointing out how he’s a hobo kid who got his hands on a camera. and really, an attack? i think that’s to strong a word, but feel free to run with it if you like. I don’t know if you have to actually become a hobo to document these things. yes, that’s what he’s doing, he’s “documenting things”. it’s art. or is he working to bring us the news? or is he a hobo kid with a camera. that said i do wish him well.-that’s not sarcasm. really. i swear. ahhh typing just doesn’t get it done sometimes…

  • Cynical Bloke

    50’000 miles and only a 104 page book? He can’t be that good a photographer if he didn’t take more great shots than that.

  • carrie

    Someone once told me to travel when you are in your early 20s. You are young and only have to worry about yourself. Thus, one can travel on a penny. However, this is not true if you have children. Going to his website, the pic of the baby made me shudder. Great pics, awesome perspective, quite an artistic eye… But train hopping is not for those who are responsible for the wellbeing of another.

  • Mansgame

    that’s okay, just have a warrant out for his arrest.

  • eraserhead12

    I’ve talked to a few of them near my college campus; a surprising amount weren’t just born into broken homes, and weren’t born homeless–they up and decided to leave in their teens, and never looked back.

    these photos are great, but they must be like 5 years old or something; I saw them years ago on Fecal Face.

  • Christian

    Really? A hobo kid who got his hands on a camera? What an ignorant comment. Living with a group of people for an extended period of time usually yields much better results than popping in for a quick snap. Knowing your subjects very well helps even more. The photographs are honest and revealing, and if some of the ‘hoboness’ rubbed off on him so what? If you have ever done any form of longer-term in-depth work (images/writing/research) you would probably know it is inevitable. Simply the price you pay for making the people real. And in these they are. I sometimes marvel at how comments by the inexperienced reflect their own biased views. Good for you.

  • Ugo Gagné

    It’s like saying homelessness in not for those who are responsible for the wellbeing of another. Truth is that if some of those kids chose to live on the trains some are stuck there just like others are stuck in the streets.

  • GokhanCukurova

    Great photos, incredibly brave journey. Stop trolling ppl, have you done anything to get out of your box? Once? Thumbs up to these young adventurers

  • Theresa Lloyd

    before I saw the check ov $5036, I be certain that…my… neighbours mother woz trully bringing home money in there spare time on-line.. there neighbor has done this 4 only about 14 months and resantly cleared the mortgage on their villa and bourt a brand new Peugeot 205 GTi. go to, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • Grzegorz Bobrowski

    Poor hipster kids get bored every day…

  • matt

    I think this is so cool to go somewhere without a plan or destination. Get out of your normal space do something scary and unknown.

  • bitrat

    Good idea! Let’s see….here’s my pipe….now where the heck did i leave my camera?

  • Bill E. Lytton

    Imagine if Garry Winogrand put all of his pictures in one book.

  • gerardv

    They’re bums and photogs have always liked shooting them. Sad but bums they be.

  • cas_e

    They all look so miserable.

    Great pictures.

  • NA_Rules_33

    The photographs are great, most people wouldn’t dispute that. What’s insufferable is the glorification of fashionable hipsters taking class tourism to exciting new levels. Don’t they look so perfectly tragic yet sexy at the same time? Was their home life so difficult that they had no choice than to just put their best leather boots, jackets, and ironic hats (i.e. the least useful clothing imaginable for an actual homeless person struggling to survive) then hit the road the only way the new how — by train? This isn’t a life decision, it’s a lifestyle decision which is excruciatingly contrived to serve their shallow hipster self image.

    It’s as if Jacobim Mugatu’s “Derelicte” fashion line campaign has come to full fruition, even without Derick Zoolander as the poster child. No, instead we have these kids playing dress up on a train because they deferred entry into gradschool for a year to pretend to be hobo’s. For everyone complaining of the negativity in the comments, realize that some of us know who these kids are, and we know that nothing makes them happier than to have a great photographer around to help romanticize their lifestyle, and to massage their egos. If you ever met these kids they would roll their eyes at you as they got off their train on their way to a boutique coffee shop.

  • Samuel

    Why is there such a negative opinion surrounding “the glorification of fashionable hipsters taking class tourism to exciting new levels.” Yeah it’s different and can seem a little contrived but whats better, going and exploring the country you live in whilst meeting people from every culture, class and social circle whether you have a difficult home life or tragic or not. Or staying at home and using a $5000 dslr to take endless mirror photos and fisheye photos of a dog.

    Why do you have the right to take issue with people serving their “Shallow hipster self image”? If you want to spend your life in a studio or in an office doing a job from 18 to 50 then retire to a nice suburban condo with a view of a golf course or spend your life pretending to be, as you put it, “tragic and difficult” while travelling around and being oh so “hipster”. Its the persons choice which path they want to take and its everyone else’s job to do what ever the hell they want and let everyone do what they want as well.

    You can criticise the boutique coffee shop lurking, ego boosting, self romanticising kids all you want but i don’t see why you would take the time to assume you know people inside out and then call the up on their fashion choices and their decisions to hop trains all over the US.

    Contrived or not the photos are brilliant and undeniably different, criticising strangers whilst under the assumption you know their entire life is just silly and short sighted.

  • Pdc

    Why not give a camera to meth heads? Its not like the drug culture or anything like this is going anywhere? Why not get some amazing photos of it? I could think of way worse things I would want my children to do than become a hobo type.

  • Camden:3

    So you think just because they’re not living in huge houses and travelling spending as much money as they can, they must come from broken homes or must be homeless? You guys think if they live that way it’s just because they have no other option?
    Young people have always wanted to rebel against what previous generations believed that was right, they have always wanted to try new things, seeing what else does the world offer them..
    They’re not homeless or “traumatized people who grew up in awful families”, they’re young people who just don’t want to do what everybody else does the way they do it, that’s what shocks people, it’s not the ussual way of life.

  • padraigin

    These photographs are compelling, and mostly because they are taken by someone who was authentically living this lifestyle alongside his subjects, not just swooping in and objectifying the subjects. He started out traveling for the adventure it seems and found a camera along the way.

    Unfortunately my niece is living this way. Therefore looking at Mike Brodie’s photos are in some strange way comforting to me. Seeing that there is a community out there for her helps. She is not a hipster who is acting out of a rebellion towards a comfortable life, she is a kid who was diagnosed at a young age with bipolar disorder and now as a legal adult refuses to take medication to treat her illness. She has been slipping away for the last five years or more. So it seems there are all kinds of reasons that kids choose, or end up in, this lifestyle.

    I recently went out to see her in California as she had been arrested and jailed for resisting arrest and then assaulting a police officer at Berkeley. I had a close up view of how she, her boyfriend and their dog are existing on the streets. They look like a cliche on the streets in California, as every few steps there are dirty kids with dogs in tow.

    As someone who has a kid they love living this way I really do wish I could talk to Mike Brodie and see if he knows what became of his subjects. Not sure what will happen to my niece, the night after I left her boyfriend beat her up badly. We nearly had her on a train (using a ticket) back to the east coast but he got to her and she stayed. So that hypocrisy is the hardest part for me personally, that somehow these kids think that they are living green, living with nature and anti the establishment when some are just disturbed and violent ultimately. Including my niece–hoping she lives to make some good art from her experiences.

    Mike’s photographs are fantastic and I think it is great that he is “untrained” as art school–which I went to–and the art world is so often just riddled with trustafarians who position themselves as superior because they often confuse good fortune with talent.

  • NA_Rules_33

    You have a unique perspective, thanks for sharing. I completely agree about the photographer too. It’s very heartening to see talent like his emerge from honest exploration.

  • Imrightyourwrong

    Comparing train hoppers to meth heads? Really? I’m sure you love woody Guthrie and bob Dylan too you fuckibg ignorant hipsters.

  • Tusket905

    A sad diatribe from a frustrated art school grad. Where did all the anger come from?

    Looked at these photos and was blown away by the humanity. As someone who has made a living in commercial photography for 30 some years I have this habit of seeing great photographs and saying to myself, ‘I wish I took that’. I wish I took them all but realize my time is past for an experience like MB must have had to get those shots. Bravo for his bravery and kudos to those who choose that lifestyle for whatever reason. Vanilla is boring, no?

  • NA_Rules_33

    Did you not read what I said? Just how clear do I have to make this? I LOVE THE PHOTOS AND HAVE HUGE RESPECT FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHER. My arguments have nothing to do with the photos. I have said that in multiple posts now. Now let me be pretentious for a minute.

    “You’ve been a commercial photographer for 30 years? You’re clearly old to really understand and all you care about is money, and not real art. There’s no way you can understand my argument, it’s just not possible with who you are and where you’ve been (or rather, not been). I on the other hand have access to special knowledge which allows me to make a better assessment of the situation than you. Also you probably wear clothes from the mall and listen to top 40 radio stations, so anything you say is meaningless.”

    Was the above sad diatribe not incredibly irritating? Now I was being sarcastic to prove a point (I really don’t believe the things I just said about you there). The reason why I’m negative towards the kids in the photos is because I have spent a lot of time around them, and almost without exception they are the most pretentious group of people I have ever met, and the above paragraph is exactly what they would be thinking about you if they met you. Seriously. They are incredibly shallow and only care about being “cooler” than you. Not joking. Let me reiterate, they seriously care more about how things look than anything else. They will have no respect for your extensive photography experience unless you show them that you can operate a Holga, or some other overpriced analog camera that they learned about at Urban Outfitters. They all have (or want) sleeve tattoo’s, drink the same beer, wear the same clothes, etc.

    Does my perspective make sense? Love the photos, hate that it’s glorifying dirtbags. Do you like rich kids who pretend to be poor? I’m not a frustrated art school grad. I’m very happy with my experience and current station in life. What I am frustrated by is when people who don’t know any better are fooled into thinking these kids are actual down and out hobos. They are not. They are pretending.

    Pretending. Pretense. Pretentious.

  • padraigin

    Thank you, have decided to go to NYC to see his exhibit.