Frink receives ‘Oscar of the ocean world’

Noted underwater photographer Stephen Frink emerges from the ocean surrounded by sharks.
Noted underwater photographer Stephen Frink emerges from the ocean surrounded by sharks. © Stephen Frink/stephenfrinkphoto.com

Key Largo is fortunate to be the home base for one of the world’s great underwater photographers, Stephen Frink, whose work has appeared in several scuba diving magazines, the cover of Newsweek and even the walls of the Murray Nelson Government & Cultural Center in Key Largo.

Frink has been widely recognized for his work. On Nov. 17 in Las Vegas, Nevada, he picked up another well-deserved accolade when he became the recipient of the Academy of Underwater Arts and Science 2016 distinguished NOGI award for art.

The NOGI Arts award has been given to a select group of filmmakers, painters, photographers, sculptors and other artists who have brought the majesty of the underwater world to people everywhere.

Frink joins prestigious company. Awardees in the Arts category have included internationally known filmmakers James Cameron and Stan Waterman, marine artists Guy Harvey and Robert Wyland (made famous for his oversized murals depicting undersea life) and photographers Emory Kristof of National Geographic and Cathy Church who is headquartered in Grand Cayman.

The NOGI Award, presented annually and considered the Oscar of the ocean world, is based on the recipients’ record of accomplishments and excellence in diving. Besides art, awards are given to world-class standouts who have distinguished themselves and made a global impact on diving in one or more of four other categories: distinguished service, environment, science, and sports/ education.

The NOGI award, the oldest and most prestigious award in the diving industry, dates back to 1960 when it came into existence as part of the trophy system offered during the 1950s for the underwater division of the New Orleans Grand Isle Fishing Tournament. NOGI is the acronym for the first four words of the tournament's name.

During his more that 30-years of professional experience, Frink has become one the most frequently published underwater photographers in the world. He has developed an impressive client list including resorts, live-aboard dive boat companies, Alcan Aluminum, American Express, Canon, Jantzen swimwear, Mercury Marine, NeoSport, Nikon, Aqua Lung, Henderson Aquatics, Oceanic, Scubapro, Seaquest, Subgear, and Victoria’s Secret. Rolex Watch Company engaged Frink for both endorsement and product photography.

Other Frink enterprises include a dive travel company, WaterHouse Tours, and a stock photo agency, Stephen Frink Collection. Stephen Frink Photographic is the North American distributor for the Austrian camera housing manufacturer SEACAM.

For the last six years, he has served as publisher of Alert Diver Magazine, a publication of the Divers Alert Network (DAN), a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization, which provides dive safety information, emergency services, and insurance for the dive community. His effort has established Alert Diver as a highly recognizable and beautiful coffee-table collectible magazine.

Photography, especially underwater photography, wasn’t Frink’s first career choice; but, early experiences and his dream of becoming a scuba diver set the stage.

Although raised far from the ocean in Rock Island, Illinois, he was at ease in water from being a competitive swimmer from childhood through college. He obtained a scuba certification, a necessary component for underwater photography, to get a part- time job cleaning boat hulls.

While studying to earn a master’s degree in experimental psychology from California State University Long Beach, Frink decided to take several photography classes. The black and white photography ignited his passion for photography and sidetracked him from a psychology career. Later, he bought an underwater camera from a surfer in Seal Beach, California, starting the journey that would lead him to being a world famous underwater photographer.

After graduate school Frink moved to Kona, Hawaii and worked taking pictures of tourists. He bought an underwater housing and strobe and took some “rudimentary’ underwater photos. He then relocated to Colorado, where he “pretty much dropped out of diving,” to work as a photo color lab technician.

Frink had been told about the warm, clear water in the Keys. Turns out, an invitation from an old swim team buddy who was living in Key Largo and working as a treasure hunter brought Frink to the Keys for a vacation in April 1978. A conversation with Joe Clark of Ocean Divers led to the opportunity to rent a tiny portion of their dive shop on the Overseas Highway, across from Pennekamp Park. He moved to Key Largo that November to open a small film processing and camera rental business.

After moving to Key Largo Frink’s underwater images became “noticed “when he upgraded his camera gear.

At first Frink’s photos primarily were of marine life. A lucky break came when he was asked to take photos for a dive magazine because their photographers’ trip was cancelled due to bad weather. Frink found a willing model, borrowed a wide-angle lens, and his new-found commercial emphasis on underwater images of people was off and running. As they say, the rest is history.

By 1980s he also started teaching master’s level courses in underwater photography.

Frink’s work has taken him around the globe giving him an intimate knowledge of marine wildlife and the adverse effects that climate change, overfishing and pollution have on the world’s oceans.

Frink is a member of the board of directors of the Sanctuary Friends Foundation of the Florida Keys, a nonprofit organization that supports the Florida Keys and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in the preservation, restoration, and sustainable use of our coral reef ecosystem. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Coral Restoration Foundation. “So much of the world ties to the ocean,” Frink said. It is important that we do everything we can to preserve it.”

“The world’s fishing fleets are extracting at an unsustainable rate,” he says. As with many divers who come to love marine life, Frink has a personal emotion about fish consumption; “I find it so ironic to be with someone on a dive boat who is happy to eat a grouper he might have photographed a few hours earlier.”

Frink has been able to visit dive spots the world over. His perfect fantasy dive spot would be slick calm, 84-degree water with 200-foot visibility with schooling great white sharks and clouds of queen angelfish.

When asked, he readily admits that his favorite subjects have been his late-wife Barbara and daughter Alexa.

As with many divers, Frink is a fan of the artificial reef system in the Florida Keys created by several intentionally sunk ships. “They provide a great habitat for marine life and present numerous opportunities for underwater photography.”

“I am both honored and humbled to have received the NOGI award for art,” Frink said. “The recipients in all the NOGI categories, both this and past years, represent the outstanding leaders in diving.”

While underwater photos have become prolific, great underwater photographers, who capture iconic images that seer into your memory for a lifetime, are rare.

Stephen Frink’s underwater photos of the largest and smallest creatures in the world’s ocean have left a legacy of those iconic images.

For more on Stephen Frink and his work see: http://www.stephenfrink.com/

Don Rhodes, in addition to a career in government affairs, has taught scuba for 30 years. He and his wife retired to Tavernier five years ago, where he works as an instructor for Conch Republic Divers. He can be reached at donrrhodes@gmail.com.