Promotions | Best of the Coast | Find a paper | About | Advertise with us | Contact
A&E | Vol. 11, No. 47, December 17, 2009
(Naughty or Nice '09)

E-mail this to a friend

The Polaroid Kidd

by Hana Frenette

Mike Brodie Leaves his mark on Pensacola

One of the best new photographers in America was living in Pensacola and no one knew it. Mike Brodie, known also by his pseudonym "The Polaroid Kidd," moved to Pensacola at the age of 16.

"It was my mom's decision, because my dad was getting out of prison that year and she thought it'd be a good idea to move far away so she wouldn't have to deal with him," Brodie says. "We rode a greyhound bus here on Halloween night; it was fun."

By 18 he was traveling across the country by railroad, armed with a Polaroid sx-70 camera and living every hipster's Kerouac fantasy.  In addition to tired feet and stained clothing, Brodie brought home amazingly intriguing and beautiful portraits of hobos, squatters, friends, and life on the road.

 Although Brodie only spent two years in Pensacola before his first excursion across the country, his time here was meaningful nonetheless.

"It was here where I developed my everlasting love for the railroad and the life it generates around it," Brodie says. " I also met my first love, a punk-rocker girl who got me into illegal troubles, petty crimes, mischief, and then ultimately the desire to run away from home for a little while."

I never really considered myself a material person until I met Mike Brodie and saw how he lived. Sure, I liked to collect old jewelry and vintage footwear as much as the next person, but I didn't think it really defined who I was or made me a super-consumer.

The summer after I graduated from high school, I was driving around downtown Pensacola with my Dad, who was visiting me from out west. We stopped by End of the Line Caf, and I told him I wanted to show him a house I had always wanted to explore.  The house was extremely old, three stories tall, paint chipping, and the front porch was complete with a giant painting of a Siamese cat and a large wooden upright coffin, as well as a plethora of bikes ranging in size, shape and number of wheels.

We drove past the house and noticed a guy sitting on the front porch waving frantically, almost flagging us down. We pulled over, got out, and approached the guy, who we were assuming was just overly friendly. The guy was Brodie, and he had thought we were someone else.

Regardless of our mistaken identity, he talked to us anyway. I had my Minolta camera with me and Brodie brought up photography. He ran into the house and brought back some Polaroids he had taken and then my dad made a comment about what an interesting house he had.

"Oh thanks, would you guys like a tour?" Brodie asked.

The outside paled in comparison to the inside. The walls were completely covered with pictures, flyers, notes, drawings, dirty clothing, nick-knacks; everything you could ever imagine being on a shelf or a coffee table was on the wall. Everything seemed like it had been pulled out of a dumpster, off the street, or out of the hands of the homeless.

It was the middle of the summer and they didn't have air conditioning or electricity. Water though, they had.

Brodie took us upstairs and showed us his room, which consisted of a sheet balled up on a bare hardwood floor, and a beaten up dresser with all the drawers open except for a missing one in the middle, making the dresser look like grinning jack o' lantern. The other room upstairs had hundreds of cut out newspaper stars hanging on yarn from the ceiling. They were right at eye level, so you were immersed in them. "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," was painted on the wall in red, which I later discovered to be a reference to the novel of the same name by Carson McCullers.

I took some pictures of the house and Brodie, then my father and I left.

For days I thought about the house. Brodie had given us the name of his Web site and as soon as I was near a computer, I looked it up.

The pictures I had seen in person were wonderful; mostly houses around Pensacola, but the photographs online were these unbelievable portraits. They were all Polaroids, but were so incredibly clear and intricate, with beautiful rich, warm colors. The pictures online detailed his time spent traveling the country by railroad with others like himself, people who had decided to leave home and bring only what they needed to survive on a boxcar.

These were people with little to no commitment, no bills, no car, no schedule; attached only to the ability to stay unattached. Their clothes were always bleached from the sun but slightly stained from the dirt, making them appear old and new at the same time. They always had a bruised knee or a mud smeared face, or both.

 The people in the pictures always seemed to have bright eyes and an amazingly thrown-together ensemble of thrift-store clothing. The look on their faces and in their eyes fully expressed what Brodie cited as his major source of inspiration; "Youthful idealism and the excitement you get when you ride that wave."

 Brodie's portraits and photographs of groups of young people seem to represent a sort of utopian society, a post-punk utopian society, but one nonetheless.  A society where no one has any money or the need to have it, where everyone bands together and a sense of brotherhood is formed simply by the knowledge that everyone is on their way somewhere else, and for a brief moment you exist in each others lives long enough to share a cigarette and a sleeping bag.

This same time last year I was reading a photography magazine and I came across an article on Brodie. He had been named Best New Photographer of the Year. He was still living in Pensacola at the time and several of his latest photos were included.

 "I got the e-mail when I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, saying I had just won $10,000 and the award for Best New Photographer," Brodie says. "I thought it was junk mail and I deleted it."

 Eventually Brodie was notified of the award and realized what he had actually received.

"It's really awesome and it motivates me daily to accomplish my goals," he says.

Brodie's goals are not the same as they were a few years ago. Instead of traveling with no money and taking pictures of all the interesting faces he comes across, Brodie's new goal is to become a diesel mechanic for the Pacific Railroad.

 "I still think about all the pictures I've taken, but right now my head is elsewhere," he says.

Brodie is currently attending school in Nashville for diesel mechanics. Once he graduates, he'll be traveling across the country by railroad yet again, but this time he'll be driving the train.

 Although Brodie isn't currently taking pictures, his work has made a tremendous impact on America and continues to show people a sub culture that many people hardly even know about, let alone see. People who see his work get to experience the sheer beauty and romantic idealism of youth, and be reminded by the fact that somewhere, people are really living that free and that happy.

To view more of Brodie's work, visit