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Remembering Ike

Contributed by Stephen Frink

It was so very like Ike to downplay the honor and achievement. The year was 2001 and I wanted to nominate Ike Brigham, the guiding force of Ikelite Underwater Systems, for the prestigious DEMA Reaching Out Award. Knowing him to be a rather private person I called to ask if he would mind the nomination, and at first he said "no way". He didn't want the attention, didn't want to have to speak in public, and besides, he thought all the good things done by Ikelite as a company were done by their 60 or so dedicated and tireless employees. Plus, he was a bit of a curmudgeon. A loveable one of course, but a curmudgeon nonetheless. Finally, he agreed to the nomination, albeit with his trademark sarcasm and self-deprecation. In Ike's words "There are those that thought a roast or a lynching might have been more appropriate. The award was flattering and also embarrassing considering the accomplishments of industry super stars like Bob Hollis, Allen Uke, and Dave Parker." Ike was terrific onstage that night, and the standing ovation of industry peers acknowledged one of the truly great pioneers in underwater imaging.

Like so many things in life, for Ike one thing led to another, but the genesis was truly a light. Back in 1960 he started Divers Supply Company. He and his buddies diving the local quarries in Indianapolis didn't have great dive lights to use at the time, so Ike set out to build one. With a molding and hand-poured plastics cured in his kitchen oven he figured a way to make an inexpensive light of very high quality. The word got out about "Ike's Light", and other dive shops around the Midwest began calling in orders for resale. Ikelite was born.

While dive lights remained integral to the Ikelite formula, underwater photographers came to know Ikelite the company, and Ike the man, through their innovative strobes and camera housings. I remember writing about the housings back in the early 1980s for Skin Diver, and got my first letter from Ike, gently reminding me that these housing were not Plexiglas, but were Lexan. A subtle distinction to me, but it spoke to Ike's desire to use the very best materials to create the very best in affordable, see-through housings. My first Ikelite housing was for a Nikon F2, and my first rental housing in my Key Largo studio was for a Canonet G3 rangefinder camera, back in 1978. I had two of those in rental, and it was no doubt the revenue they provided that got me through those first few years of struggling to start an underwater photo business.

Ike Brigham circa 1970sIke working at his trademark cluttered desk and drafting table, circa 1970s.

Ikelite has grown dramatically since those early days. They are one of the most innovative and dynamic companies in underwater imaging. The housings are still made of Lexan, but they are thick-walled and extraordinarily robust, with circuitry allowing TTL with digital cameras. This TTL integration with digital cameras was a massively difficult hurdle to overcome, and Ikelite was the first with a solution, and remains probably the best. The Ikelite strobe, particularly the extraordinarily popular series started with the DS125, is found in the travel kit of most professional shooters from around the world. But, what amazes me the most is the incredible depth of their product line. It is worth a visit to the Ikelite website to see how many cameras can be accommodated in an Ikelite housing. Clearly, the Ikelite team is quite brilliant in their ability to bring product to market quickly. Considering how quickly things change in terms of digital camera introduction, you can always count on Ikelite to be first to market with an underwater housed camera solution.

Every underwater photographer will have an "Ike story". Some tight deadline we might have had where Ikelite got us a strobe in time, or some bit of specialty gear we had to house, or some repair that had to get turned around ultra-quickly to use on the next assignment. The common thread in all these stories is customer service second-to-none. Ikelite has become the industry-model for ethics, honor, and unfailing dedication to providing the very best to their customers, quickly and without question. Whatever the issue, a shooter knows Ikelite is there to back them up. It says a lot about the company, but it no doubt says a lot about the man as well.

About the Author

Stephen Frink is among the world's most frequently published underwater photographers, and is a Canon EXPLORER OF LIGHT, the only marine specialist within this very elite group of photographers.

Stephen is also the publisher of a beautiful new quarterly magazine for the Divers Alert Network, ALERT DIVER. Previously, his editorial work appeared in SCUBA DIVING as Director of Photography, and as a contributing photographer for SKIN DIVER magazine for 17 years. Frink has authored a coffee table book entitled WONDERS OF THE REEF, and teaches Masters level courses of Stephen Frink School of Underwater Digital Imaging in his home waters of Key Largo, Florida.

Visit Stephen Frink's Portfolio