Michael Penn said he recalls one shot most vividly from his work as a Philly street photographer.
Out one day, he rounded a corner near Market Street and saw cops surrounding a collapsed man who was overdosing. Behind him, a bus shelter sign read, "Your luck's about to change. Maybe it already has." Penn snapped the photo.
"It's not always good, but it's happening right in front of you," he said, adding that he takes the kind of photos the city's tourism board would hate.
Not that they're all bad. In his latest books of photos, there are captured moments of all sorts — a kid on a bike barreling toward the lens, PGW workers glaring at the street, people spilling into a subway tunnel.
Penn's latest project is "Month-Day-Year," a series of zines offering 25 black and white photos of moments all captured in one 24-hour span in the city. The most recent book features photos taken on Dec. 17.
"It could be anything that's a favorite moment," Penn said over coffee on Wednesday in Old City, where he's lived for 20 years. "I take photos of things I want to remember."
Penn's ongoing undertaking is "The Philadelphia Project," in which he took 1,000 photos of the city — he was finished actually taking the photos in July — and releases a book of them each month. He just released number 15 in the series; it will take 40 months to publish all 1,000 photos.
From that initial project came the M-D-Y series. Rather than producing the traditional glossy coffee table books of photos, which can cost thousands, Penn said he wants to perpetuate the concept of inexpensive, handmade books of photos for the public.
There is a challenge, he said, in documenting the city as he does.
"You see the same things over and over again. I think the city's lost its edge, it's very nine-to-five. Like any gentrifying city, it's very mainstream," he said.
But he said the city does come alive at night, when he often likes to shoot. Then, and in the rain or snow. He said he's "like a postman" that way.
His work, he said, captures Philly as he likes to remember it.
As for us?
"I prefer to let the viewer come to their own conclusion," he said.
Do just that here.