From its inception in 1980, Chimera Lighting has gained a reputation for innovation and excellence in the photography and film industries for its exceptional lighting products. But, like many innovative companies, Chimera evolved from humble beginnings.
In 1980, advertising and album cover photographer Gary Regester and noted climber, photographer and engineer/designer Tom Frost joined forces to create Chimera’s the first of a long line of light modifiers. Regester, who often photographed musicians on location, was looking for an alternative solution to creating the beautiful light he wanted for his portraits—one that created broader and softer illumination than umbrellas and a set-up that was more practical and portable than bulky lightboxes constructed from foam core and gaffer’s tape. Regester, inspired by the design of high altitude tents, sketched out some rough ideas for a collapsible modifier, which generated overwhelming interest from his photographer friends.
Frost provided the perfect balance of skills and experience, including his tenure as a designer for Chouinard Equipment (the predecessor to Patagonia, founded by Chouinard), to partner with Regester to bring the photographer’s idea to life. Set against the backdrop of Colorado, known for its rugged beauty and outdoor adventures, Regester and Frost created the Illuminata Lightbank and Chimera was born, with Frost and his wife Dorene and Regester and his wife Joanie as the original founders.
The business initially started in the Frosts’ garage, with Tom Frost cutting the fabric for the lighbanks and then outsourcing the sewing locally. Skilled home sewers were—and are—plentiful in Colorado, thanks to the backpack and tent industry in the area. In the early days, the lightbanks were mainly sold at tradeshows but the business grew and the Frosts purchased a building that remains in the Frost family and continues to be home base for Chimera.
While initially designed for, and marketed to, still photographers, in the early 1980’s the late Dean Collins suggested that Chimera adapt its product lines for film and, later, video. Frost followed through by meeting with key players in the Hollywood film industry. This was a major step for the small company as cinematographers began to embrace Chimera lightbanks. Perhaps the tipping point was reached in 1990, when gaffer Mo Flam and DP Geoffrey Simpson used Chimera equipment when filming the breakout movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes.’” Since then, Chimera has played—and continues to maintain—a dominant role in the movie industry. That’s no surprise given the products’ rugged build, ability to withstand the high heat output from cinema lights and to create the perfect illumination. When you’re working on a million dollar set, the last thing you want to face is an issue with equipment.