Behind “The Face”

The concept behind the photos in this project came from the photographer Richard Avedon whose books, “Portraits, In the American West” and “Portraits of Power,” had a profound influence on many photographers, including Civil Beat’s PF Bentley. The iconic photos by Avedon, who died in 2004, are large format black and white portraits set against a white backdrop. PF’s goal, like Avedon’s, was to nail one instant, one passing moment that went beyond the candidate’s usual public veneer. Something deeper, something unexpected.

The audio interviews conducted for The Face aimed to capture something similar, something much more profound and human than political slogans and campaign soundbites.

We focused on the concept of resilience. High-level politicians benefit greatly, while in office, from the capacity to endure blows, learn from hardships, and then move forward. Eric Pape or Chad Blair asked the candidates to share a particularly difficult episode from their life, and then to explain how they got through it and what they might have learned.

To set up the shoots and interviews, PF sent out email invitations in early September to 10 candidates for governor, the U.S. Senate and Congress. Getting them to come to Civil Beat’s offices to open themselves up was, as PF noted, a little “like herding kittens while juggling eggs.” Nine out of 10 accepted and shared sides of themselves they rarely, if ever, display.

The images were shot in our conference room, which was converted into a studio. Only the subject and PF were in the room with the door closed and the blinds drawn. He worked to create a private, intimate environment and kept shooting “until they were bored, uncomfortable or both. Until I felt that one instant happened.” (The photographs were shot on a Canon 5D with a 50 F1.4 lens.)

The interviews were conducted in a similar environment in Civil Beat’s recording room — the door was closed, the microphones close and the discussions largely in intimate tones. Those revealing recordings were condensed by audio editor Chrystèle Bossu-Ragis.

PF Bentley & Eric Pape

How much do you value our journalism?

Civil Beat focuses exclusively on the kind of journalism most at risk of disappearing – in-depth, investigative and enterprise coverage of important local issues. While producing this type of journalism isn’t cheap, you won’t find our content hidden behind a paywall. We also never worry about upsetting advertisers – because we don’t allow any. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on donations from readers like you to help keep our stories free and accessible to everyone. If you value our journalism, show us with your support.


About the Authors