While photographing baseball players a couple of weeks ago in North Carolina, I was reminded of why I have an aversion to photographing people in uniform. Uniforms are like personality shields. Instead of seeing a person, you see a type. But uniforms aren’t just limited to athletes and police officers. A few years ago while working on a project with the fashion designers Rodarte, I was asked to photograph punk kids in Oakland. What I mostly encountered were gutter punks. To me their dreadlocks, ear gauges and facial tattoos made them as one-dimensional as their cardboard signs.
For this reason, I’ve always avoided Mike Brodie’s pictures of young train hoppers. This has been particularly hard to do in the last couple of months with the release of Brodie’s book and exhibition, A Period of Juvenile Prosperity. Making this even more difficult was the fact that the work was being championed by a great person, Paul Schiek, and was being shown in a great gallery, Yossi Milo. Most difficult of all was that the book was being published by one of my favorite publishers, Twin Palms.
While recently visiting Ampersand, the great art bookstore in Portland, I couldn’t resist any longer. After spending thirty seconds with A Period of Juvenile Prosperity, all of my preconceptions dropped away. Everything about this book is perfect: the size, printing, sequence, cover image, title and essay. Even the acknowledgements are perfect (“My mom, Frankie, for letting me go; my dad, Gary, for not being around;..and Savannah Locklin, my first love, for introducing me to and amazing new life worth living. Thank you all.”)
A Period of Juvenile Prosperity opened my eyes. The cliché lifestyle dropped away and I could see past the uniform to the ‘life worth living.’ At the end of Brodie’s brilliant essay, he writes “I don’t want to be famous, but I hope this book is remembered forever.” I have a feeling it will be.
– Alec Soth
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