Typology Photography and Contemporary Art

Typology Photography is a Contemporary Art form that has roots in industrial architecture documentation beginning in 1959.

“Anonymous” and “iconic” best describes Michael Penn’s “Tune-in” series that studies arial analog television antennas shot from street level throughout metropolitan Philadelphia and its suburbs. The subject matter of obsolete best fits the mold and vision of Typology originators Bernd and Hilla Becher, who coined the term, “Typology.”

Michael’s work is configurable, although he lays out his images in five rows by five columns. His urban collection of 100 images titled “Tune-in” is still growing. 75 images were shot within Philadelphia’s Center City, while his recent continuation “Tune-In:4” are obviously suburban in nature; shot in the Wissahickon Valley near Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill, where he now calls home base.

Abstract when printed at 40” x 40”, each monochromatic image displays the variety of styles and original form of something so utilitarian, leaving one to wonder, “just how many antenna manufacturers were there?”

As Penn was shooting his hyper-gentrification exposé portfolio, “Welcome To Market East” one element remained apparent. The series that documented the final days of The Gallery and Philadelphia’s surrounding shopping corridor, revealed a world of unwanted humans, addicted and ill, soon to be replaced by high-end shopping, sidewalk video kiosks, and curbside beer gardens. This spawned Michael’s second Typology series: “Please Help.”

“Please Help” provokes a sense of guilt and helplessness many people would choose to ignore. An expected social issue and human interest in nature, this body of work has been avoided by many in the art world who believe themselves to be righteous and caring. It puts them in an uncomfortable place, exposing a new hypocrisy in itself. Michael’s constant push and provocation could be why his later works go unrecognized.


Handwritten cardboard signs borrowed from the homeless that Penn befriended during his previous project explained situation, found excuse, begged for help, and make up the 75 image collection.

Like “Tune-In”, the abstract impact is the large print size, each of the 3 panels measure 40” x 40” with each image measuring about seven-and-a-half inches.

“Tune In Philadelphia: A Collection of 75 Rooftop Antenna Images” paperback is also available at barnesandnoble.com (Retail: $37.50) and Michael’s first “Tune-in” sold at auction in 2007 and was featured in Fraction Magazine’s Typologies Group Show in 2008.

Most recently, Tune-in has been used as cover art for Bilderfolgen; Diagrammatologie der Fernsehserie by Daniela Wentz (Follow Pictures; Diagram of the TV Series).