Ernest H. Brooks 80 years, still active snorkeler and adventurer. Picture Matti Ponkala 2015.

- I wouldn't wanna spend my 80-year-old-birthday anywhere else in the world, Ernest H. Brooks II says on his birthday speech in Living Colours Diving Resort January 2015. Legendary underwater photographer, educator and adventurer Ernie Brooks, who worked togerher with Jacques Cousteau for 17 years training Calypso's photographers, still travels through the world taking black and white pictures of the things that touches his heart.

Ernest Brooks took his first newspaper-published picture at the age of five after getting a camera from his Portuguese grandmother, who was professional portrait photographer. Already at that point he knew he wanted to be a photographer when he grew up, and since half of his family was working as professional photographers taking pictures of flowers and landscapes, was the decicion easy for him.

Ernest Brooks II- Having a family like that, what you do? Photography is your whole life! Ernest laughs in Living Colours restaurant in warm afternoon sipping Indonesian black coffee.

Underwater photography became his interest when he was participating swimming competition in his teens.

- I loved swimming underwater! I entered the three mile swim off Santa Barbara and won three years in a row. But on the fourth year when I was a senior in high school I looked down and I saw the kelp we were swimming through. Light rays were going through and I could see the fish on the bottom. And I stopped swimming and saw the beautful ocean. I lost the race.

Ernie welded his first underwater housing from aluminium and started photographing the kelp. Diving he started 1949 and has done over 15 000 dives since.

- I took black and white pictures and send them to magazines all over world and they started publishing, you know, he tells with glowing eyes.

Flew over 70 countries before age of 20

Ernie has always loved to publish his pictures. All the money he got from the pictures he published he put into new photo equipment which he continued to experiment with. From highschool Ernie joined air force and short after that he was flying U2 planes all over the world taking pictures for mapping.

- When I was 18, I was an air force pilot and flew over 70 different countries before I was 20! I was very good figuring out optics. We were using a lot of infrared cameras, and actually I designed the film, Ernie mentiones in passing.

He uses very similar system for his photographs these days, the size of the camera has just changed dramatically from those times.

- It sees what the eye sees but it also goes to the infra red spectrum which is beyond what you seen. Blue goes black, red goes white, green has 21 shades of gray, Ernie explanes.

Sea Pearls by Ernest Brooks

Sea pearls by Ernest H. Brooks.

“Cousteau thought I was crazy”

One of those military mapping trips Ernie was flying over Etiopia, this was year 1956.

- I was flying one engine plane and the Calypso was just beeing built. I looked down and saw the ship from the window. So I hired a jeep and drove down to the harbour and introduced myself to the captain Jacques Cousteau. I told him what I was doing and he said: “When you got out from air force, come to see me. I want you to train my photographers”. So when I was 22 years old I got out from the air force and flew to France to train 8-9 Cousteau's photographers. And today in my reunion they all will come and meet together, Ernie explanes his first meeting with legendary explorer captain Cousteau.

Ernie worked with Cousteau for 17 years training his photographers, traveling all over the world.

- With Cousteau we traveled different oceans, the southern ocean is fabulous, rough but wonderful. I go on these Russian ice breakers and be on the bridge and I love it! The captain (Cousteau) thought I was nuts! he reminisces the times with pioneer marine explorers.

Ernest Brooks snorkeling in Bunaken

Ernie snorkeling in Bunaken National Marine Park. Picture: Matti Ponkala 2015.

At the same time he was studying and later teaching photographying in his father's photography school the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara. Her youngest daughter Denise named the boat Just Love and with that old fishing boat Ernie and his students made unforgettable trips in USA and Mexico.

- I was there for 32 years and it was because of my boat and my undersea class. I had students all over the world and they fell in love with the boat and the cook and the crew and diving. We would make only one dive a day and in the evening we process the film down in the engine room and we hang it up to dry. In the morning we got up at 5 o'clock and the film would be dry and w get the lights behind it and we looked into what the sutudents have been doing with magnifying glass... Beautiful! Ernies shines when talking about those times.

And traveler Ernie still is.

- I don't have a home, I travel all the time.

On this trip Ernie has travelled with his partner Sally through Indonesia. They deciced to spend Ernie's 80-year-old birthday at Living Colours of Bunaken, where both of them have been three times before.

- I wouldn't wanna spend my 80-year-old-birthday anywhere else in the world. Thank you for your hospitality Mia, Jaakko and all Living Colours staff, Ernie says to all of us in Living Colours restaurant huge chocolate cake in front of him.

Picture:Matti Ponkala

Heini, Alistair, Mia, Sally, Ernie and Jaakko on Ernie's 80th birthday at Living Colours Diving Resort January 2015. Picture: Matti Ponkala.

Ernie encourages everyone to see Bunaken and it's beauty and peacefullness at least once in their life.

- Living Colours is place for divers, snorkelers, the environmentalists and people who love nature, who love quiet, love peace, enjoy good food, people who enjoy Indonesian smiles. Everything is here with all your people, you don't find that in other places! This area, right in front, when you go through your gate and the tide is right and you drift all the way down... Fabulous! There's not a place like this on the planet!

So in the end, what has 80-year-old pioneer underwater photographer to say to all of us?

- Do something every day to make the planet a better place.

He also encourages everyone to grab a camera and start photographing the things you love.

- This is my moment in time, this is what I see. Your moment will be different.

Ernie Brooks will be VIP guest in Asia Dive Expo ADEX Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing in April 2015.

Take a look Ernie's amazing underwater pictures here.

Ernest Brooks

Ernest H. Brooks II.


/text Heini Härsilä, Living Colours Diving Resort


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Living Colours Diving Resort 
PADI 5 Star Dive Resort S-36220
Pangalisang Beach, Bunaken
North Sulawesi, Indonesia

Tel: +62 812 430 6401 Mia | +62 81 2430 6063 Jaakko

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