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Bentley: A respected photojournalist becomes an educator:
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After graduation, Bentley moved to San Francisco and worked at “a bigger alternative paper,” The San Francisco Bay Guardian (which is still in existence today). Here, he says, he wore several hats—photographer and layout/ pasteup artist. He stayed on this job for three years before traveling to Europe to take pictures. He later moved to New York, and approached several contacts there, such as Neil Leifer, a sports photographer with Time magazine. Bentley says he assisted Leifer, carried his gear, “and it got me in the door.”

Soon he began doing some photo assignments for Time, where he became a contract photographer and Special Correspondent for about 18 years—“until the year 2000, when AOL stepped in.” For the past two years, Bentley has been an assignment photographer for Newsweek, and continues this work, as well as video and editing jobs, during term breaks from Brooks Institute.

Bob Dole, after announcing that he would leave the senate to devote all of his time to his ’96 campaign.

History As It Unfolds
Looking back over the years, what have his favorite projects been? He replies that, first of all, “I’ve enjoyed being a part of history.” As an “amateur historian,” he’s grateful for the opportunity to capture events with his camera. In addition to covering political stories on domestic turf, Bentley says he’s made eight trips to Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the past few years, and fourteen trips to Haiti to photograph the political turmoil there. He’s worked in China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong and most of Europe.

Bush in prayer before addressing nation after 9/11 attacks.

Bentley has also photographed every U.S. presidential campaign since 1980. Perhaps one of the most challenging of these was Bentley’s 10-month assignment to document Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. “It was like the campaign to end all campaigns,” he recalls. “I think I got about eight hours of sleep all year!” Later, Bentley’s revealing images of Clinton and the spirit of this campaign appeared in the best-selling book, Clinton: Portrait of Victory.

Early in 1995, Bentley also covered Newt Gingrich’s first 100 days in office for Time. His book, based on that coverage, is called Newt: Inside the Revolution. (He met his wife, publicist Cathy Saypol, on Gingrich’s book tour about eight years ago.)
President Bush’s State of the Union Address coincidentally took place the day of my interview with Bentley, and during our conversation, he got a call from Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle’s press office. Bentley acknowledged that it was the first year in a very long time when he wouldn’t be present for this important event. Instead, he said, he’d watch it on TV just like everybody else—(“that’s kind of strange”). To the press secretary, he said jokingly, “Just tell the President I got a real job.”

Bill Bradley in Iowa during his 2000 campaign.

Simple, Yet Effective
Bentley says he likes to keep his photo equipment simple. He uses a Canon EOS D60 with 24mm f/1.4, 100mm f/2, 300mm f/4 Image-Stabilizing, 16–35mm f/2.8, and 70–210mm f/2.8 lenses. He also has a Canon 1.4X tele-extender and carries the small, unobtrusive 220EX flash (“just in case”). He adds, “I usually end up taking two camera bodies and two lenses on the job—‘less gear, more pictures’ is my motto.”

His video gear includes a Canon GL2 digital video camera with pro audio equipment. He filmed Ted Koppel for ABC’s “Nightline” with the GL2. (To show how quickly technology has changed, Bentley said he used Hi-8 video equipment when he first worked with Koppel.) His editing is done on Final Cut Pro, and he uses an Apple G4 Powerbook.

Clinton and President-elect Bush in conversation before the inauguration at the U.S. Capitol, January, 2001.

Bentley rarely works in color. “I’ve been able to work in black-and-white and get it published. In this world of color, it’s hard to do, but I think I’ve been able to open doors for others in black-and-white.” In a sense, he says, he feels he’s brought back “what’s real.” He was influenced early on by Jacques Lowe’s personal images of JFK. “I’ve always enjoyed his work. I had the opportunity to do this type of thing on the first Clinton campaign, and people initially thought it was crazy that the campaign would allow a member of the press to travel in the inner circle.”

As for future plans, Bentley says, “I’m going to continue to teach, to be part of the industry, and to enjoy life. All in all, I hope I can make a difference in the new crop of photo- and videojournalists coming out of Brooks.” He says he also likes Ventura for its beach-town culture, which is what he’s accustomed to in Hawaii.

Eric Clapton

“I think I’ve been able to hone in on what’s important,” he says of his ability to capture special moments. In recalling his experiences over the past 30 years he concludes, “It’s been a great life. I’m extremely fortunate that the camera has been my passport to it all.”

To see more of PF Bentley’s work, visit www.pfpix.com or www.hulaboyproductions.com. For more information about the Brooks Institute of Photography’s Visual Journalism program, go to www.brooks.edu, or call 888/304-3456.

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