History of Brooks Institute

Brooks Institute has a rich history since its inception in 1945. Learn more about this California film & photography school.

Originally established as the Brooks Institute of Photography, Brooks Institute has a longstanding history that began when Ernest Brooks, Sr., founded the school in 1945 in Santa Barbara, Calif. Brooks, who served in the army air force during World War II as a procurement officer, developed a training program for bomber gunners in which he had them use cameras to “shoot” fighter planes, and the filmed results could then be evaluated.

Brooks Institute’s first group of 12 students were World War II veterans seeking to learn photography skills on the GI Bill. Brooks felt that the discipline of photography was becoming ever more specialized and technical. He established a teaching model still used today, in which students are taught by specialists with an emphasis on hands-on experience and individual initiative.

The original core curriculum was developed around economics, public speaking, and business management. Brooks passed his legacy on to son Ernest Brooks II, who added portraiture, underwater and scientific photography, and motion picture production.

Since then, Brooks Institute has evolved with the rapidly changing climate of the visual arts industry and currently operates as a private, four-year media and communication arts college. The college houses two campuses, one in Santa Barbara and one Ventura, Calif., where staff, faculty and students still reflect the vision of its founder through the college’s “learning by doing” approach.

Ernest Brooks, Sr.’s goal was always to develop photographers into successful people both in business and in life. Brooks Institute continues to pursue that goal through an expansive offering of degree programs including a Masters of Fine Arts in Photography, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Professional Photography, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film, Bachelor of Science in Visual Journalism and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design.

Today, Brooks Institute stands firmly on its more than 68 years of foundation of innovative education, built carefully over the years by its presidents, including Ernest Brooks, Sr., and Ernie Brooks II, as well as a dedicated faculty and staff. Over the years, there also have been many industry “friends” that have joined and supported the school’s efforts, among them Samy’s Camera, Kodak, Mole-Richardson, Epson, Nikon, Canon, Leica, Hensel, Mamiya, Calumet, the National Press Photographer’s Association, the American Society of Media Photographers, The Travel Channel and many others.

Also integral to the Brooks Institute history are those who have passed through its halls – the thousands of alumni who have gone on to achieve success in their work and lives. Many have garnered high acclaim and won national and international awards for their outstanding work. Many have shaped the future of the photography industry through their use of new techniques and technologies. Many have made a difference in other ways as well, by giving back to their communities through their photography, film or video and graphic design abilities. They are, figuratively speaking, part of the emulsion that binds the image of the past with the promise of the future.

Brooks Institute thrives, and Ernest H. Brooks, Sr. would have every right to be proud of the school he created, a school that is truly a legacy to generations. If he were here today, perhaps he would offer his familiar close-lipped smile and the standard Brooks sign-off …

Visually Yours, Ernest H. Brooks, Sr.

Brooks Institute Timeline

The timeline below offers a glimpse at some of the highlights and key moments in the history of Brooks Institute.

  • 1945: Brooks Institute is founded by Ernest Brooks, Sr.
  • 1952: The Grayholm Estate is acquired, adding a new campus location in Montecito, Calif.
  • 1960s: Underwater photography and motion picture production classes are introduced. These courses allowed students to study and practice film or photography aboard a dive boat specifically equipped for the needs of underwater photography/film. Ernie Brooks was unabashed in his passion for this project. This was clearly a milestone for Brooks. He was known for sometimes exchanging his title of president for that of captain in order to lead the ocean-going expeditions.
  • 1971: Ernest Brooks, Sr. steps down and turns leadership of college over to his son, Ernest Brooks II.
  • 1970s: Brooks Institute plays an integral part in the photographic analysis of the fabled Shroud of Turin, a religious relic purported to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. The custodians of the shroud permitted a scientific study of the shroud, and a Brooks team led by Professor Vernon Miller, head of the school’s industrial/scientific department, was responsible for visual documentation and analysis.
  • 1988: Brooks Institute begins providing the official ship’s photographer/teacher for the Semester at Sea program, an arrangement which continued into the early 2000s.
  • 1992: Brooks takes its first documentary trip, sending a student class to China to document the local life. Subsequent trips followed, with destinations including India, the Mekong River, West Africa, Mexico, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Australia and Vietnam among many others.
  • 1999: Brooks Institute is acquired by Career Education Corporation, one of the world’s largest providers of proprietary education.
  • 2002: The Ventura campus opens in a former motion picture studio.
  • 2005: The Cota Street campus opens in Santa Barbara to provide a public gallery and additional classrooms.
  • 2008: Brooks Institute partners with the Marriott Beach Hotel in Ventura to develop Visions Gallery to exhibit work from students, faculty and alumni.
  • 2011: Brooks moves out of Jefferson Campus to take over the Mason campus in the Funk Zone.
  • 2013: Brooks moves continuing students to the Cota campus and begins a 2 year phased move to the Ventura Campus with the expectation that all programs will be offered in Ventura by 2015.
  • 2013: Brooks closes their Mason campus in December of 2013 in Santa Barbara moving the remaining students in Pro Photo to Cota and starting all new starts on the Ventura campus starting in September of 2013.