During his 30 years as a photojournalist, PF Bentley has attained rare access
to numerous political figures and sought-after news events. He's known
for his skill for getting close to his subjects without intruding on the events
he's recording. Of this special talent, Bentley simply remarks, "I
can blend into any wall." He rarely uses strobe; instead, he says he depends
more on ambient lighting and just a few cameras and lenses--"I don't
use gear that you can hear at all." And then there's the matter
of trust, which he seems to consistently earn from his subjects.
PF Bentley photographed numerous rock stars in Hawaii during the
mid-70s, including Steve Tyler of Aerosmith.
In addition to his still photography, Bentley has some impressive video documentaries
to his credit. As with his still photography, his videos also have that personal
"behind the scenes" feeling. His company, Hula-Boy Productions (a
nod to Bentley's Hawaiian background) has filmed several "Nightline"
broadcasts for ABC television, which include an August 2001 production on Senate
Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Other videos include "Clinton's Final
Days," which comprises still photos of the President's last days
in office; and "Dr. Andy's Journey," about challenges posed
to an emergency-room doctor. Currently, he's working on a documentary
for PBS, and is filming a National Geographic special entitled, "Inside
Bentley is the recipient of several first-place awards in the prestigious University
of Missouri School of Journalism's Pictures of the Year (POY) competition,
mostly for his in-depth coverage of presidential campaigns. His photos are syndicated
worldwide through his Website, www.pfpix.com. His work has also been published
in Newsweek, People, The New York Times Magazine, and The Washington Post, to
name a few.
Top of Its Game
And what is Bentley doing today? He's the newest faculty member in the
Visual Journalism program at Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, California.
He teaches three courses: Picture Story, Real World Photojournalism, and Digital
Video for Photojournalists--all geared for advanced students. Of his new
post, he says, "It's been a great opportunity, and I'm having
a ball. The people are wonderful, and I'm extremely happy to be here.
[Teaching is] a change of pace from being in a new city and hotel room every
day. Besides, it keeps me off the streets!" He also says proudly, "Ours
is the fastest-growing department at Brooks."
Bentley says he's impressed by Brooks' cutting-edge approach:
"The school is at the top of its game--nothing is done halfway here."
He admits to being a tough instructor, as photojournalism constitutes a very
competitive market out there. "I try to push students beyond what they
feel they can do, into heights they can achieve," he says. "It's
a big reality check. Photojournalism isn't only about traveling around
the world." He tells his students, "If you're doing this just
for travel, then you should become a travel agent." He points out that
travel is a byproduct of the job, but only if a photographer is good at what
In Bentley's courses, he only utilizes digital technology, be it still
or video photography, and says that no one working in photojournalism uses film
anymore. He tells students, "Film is dead; get over it. It's not
Why did he decide to teach at this juncture? "I've been in [photojournalism]
for three decades. Teaching is a change of pace, there's no grind of travel.
It's also a chance to give back to an industry that's been so good
to me," he comments. "Also, I'm in California--there's
palm trees and it's warm, and that's good." (He also maintains
residences in New York, and in Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii.)
The Clintons during the '92 campaign trail, in a Chicago
Bentley grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, where his hobby was shooting surfing pictures
of his buddies. Eventually, he landed a job with a small alternative newspaper,
called Sunbums, to cover local rock-'n'-roll events. "The
first images I took were onstage in horrible lighting conditions, and everything
since then has been easy," he laughs. Nonetheless, he enjoyed himself.
His philosophy is, "If you can't have fun, why do it?"
Lacking formal training in photography, he says, "I read everything I
could on the subject, and tested it all out." Although he's self-taught
in the field that would bring him great success, Bentley had "a hunch"
that an educational degree would one day come in handy. Thus, he got a Bachelor
of Education degree at the University of Hawaii in 1975.
Capitol leaders in discussion during Anthrax crisis of 2001.