Through the Lens – Beken of Cowes
Frank Beken © Beken of Cowes
Frank’s son Keith followed on from the mid 1930s in time for the J-Class and Big Boat era. After a brief spell captaining an Air Sea Rescue boat during WWII, he saw the company through the post war years with the introduction of ocean racing & IOR. Not content with just Cowes and the Solent, he started travelling to international regattas on both sides of the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean, increasing the scope of the Beken archives from traditional sepia monochrome studies into modern colour photography. He earned his ‘Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society’ in 1951 and the ‘Royal Warrant’ from Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Keith’s son Kenneth started photographing afloat in 1970 and for over 45 years would be seen in his Boston Whaler capturing the sailing scene. Ken reckons the best of times were those earlier years of IOR when designers were more experimental, enabling him to capture some ‘interesting’ studies! It was a 7-days-a week job, very reliant on the weather. Black Solent skies meant you were frantically busy shooting before the inevitable rains came.
He travelled to worldwide regattas with his trusty Hasselblad cameras; from hanging out of helicopters shooting powerboats off Key West, to America’s Cup 12-metres off Perth, and swimming in shark-infested Hawaiian waters shooting windsurfers with underwater Nikonos. Although his own boat has never let him down, he hasn’t always been so lucky on other craft. A leaking speedboat very nearly sank underneath him in Sardinia (when he had to use his own camera bag as a makeshift bailer), and he survived a light aircraft crash landing in Antigua (when it lost all power over the water!)
He does remember though being struck by lightning during the Swan Europeans off Cowes in 2005: “On seeing ominous approaching black skies and bearing in mind I was standing on top of 50 gallons of high octane fuel, I made for a moored coaster and stopped in her lee thinking lightning would strike it first. It did, but the bolt shot through my boat too, up my arm, flinging my mobile phone to the deck!”
Dihard © Beken of Cowes
In 1991 I realised that 2001 would mark not only my 50th Birthday, but also the 150th Anniversary of the 1851 America’s Cup. I wrote to the Royal Yacht Squadron suggesting a re-run of the original £100 Round the Island Race. (Note it’s 100-Pounds. An RYS member told me “Guineas are for horses, Pounds are for yachts.”) The resulting regatta (and birthday treat) was truly memorable!
The magnificent J-Class yacht Velsheda was built in 1933 and rebuilt in 1996 © Beken of Cowes
Sadly, with the proliferation of digital cameras making everyone a ‘photographer’, the Solent and the commercial market had become so crowded that marine photography had, for the Bekens, become commercially untenable and they stopped photography afloat. However, with close-on 1 million images in their amazing historical archives, there’s plenty to keep them busy…