Bentley: A respected photojournalist becomes an educator

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 the Capitol."

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, His work has also been published in Newsweek, People, The New York Times Magazine, and The Washington Post, to name a few.

Paul Stanley of Kiss

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."

Frank Zappa

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 he/she does.

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 coming back--Aloha!"

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 hotel suite.

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.