Acclaimed Santa Barbara photographer followed in father’s footsteps at Brooks Institute
Ernest “Ernie” Brooks II, a Santa Barbara local known for breathtaking photos taken from under the surface of the sea, died Tuesday at the age of 85.
His photos captured the majesty of sea life in dramatic monochrome. It may seem like his work is the best encapsulation of his time, but he contributed much more to the world than images — magnificent ones at that.
“He touched thousands of people,” his son Dan Brooks said.
Mr. Brooks served for many years as president of Santa Barbara-based Brooks Institute of Photography, a college established by his father, Ernest Brooks Sr.
But Ernest Brooks II didn’t just sit in a cold office; he headed out on the boat “Just Love” to take classes of students on photographic dives.
“Diving with Ernest Brooks II was a memory I will always treasure. He was constantly in awe of the sea. Emerging from every dive, even when the conditions had been crappy and visibility low, he would have the wonder of a young child in his eyes,” Brooks Institute alumnus Keith Roberts said in a blog post.
In 2014, after the Brooks Institute closed, he donated the Jefferson campus building, located at 1321 Alameda Padre Serra in Santa Barbara, to Santa Barbara Middle School, a private school focused on nurturing lifelong learners.
Many former students have taken to the Earnest Brooks Foundation’s Facebook page and Mr. Brooks’s page to share memories.
“I count my lucky stars to have known him for over 40 years as a former student at Brooks Institute and a dear and longtime friend ever since,” Chuck Davis said. “Ever since my 20s when I first met (Mr. Brooks), I knew his art was masterful and unique, and inspiring, but I also knew there was something special about it that far exceeded the physical photographs themselves — that special ‘something’ was the feelings and his ethos and pathos about the sea that he conveyed in his art with his strong spirit — and that special something, I came to understand was love.”
Even with a swath of workshops, award ceremonies and students, he spent lots of time with family.
“He was a joy to be around. He was always Mr. Positive,” Dan Brooks said. “He took us everywhere. We traveled with him to his shows and slideshows. He’d take us to Hawaii to do all the programs there.”
His family was shocked at his passing. His doctor had assessed that he had five years left as of eight months ago.
He was living in Lacey, Wash., at the end of his life, but he grew up in Santa Barbara and raised his kids in Santa Barbara, too. He was inducted into Santa Barbara High School’s Hall of Fame in March 2019.
His work has been shown in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Monterey Bay Aquarium Shark Exhibit, Yugoslavia’s “Man in the Sea,” Our World Underwater, Smithsonian’s “Planet Earth” and more. He was one of only 40 photographers to be admitted to the Camera Craftsmen of America.
His most recent award, “The 1996 Partner’s Award,” from the American Oceans Campaign honored his lifelong commitment.