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Anne Hampson showcases the work of Beken

Anne Hampson showcases the work of Beken

The work of the Beken family's four generations of photographers, working out of the Cowes since the 1880s, has earned them a legion of fans worldwide.

Frank Beken

You don’t have to be an expert sailor to appreciate Beken’s classic historical monochrome photographs as well as the company’s breathtaking colour images of today’s superior racing and cruising craft. Loyal Beken followers include the Duke of Edinburgh, who has awarded the company a Royal Warrant, as did King George V and Queen Victoria before him.

Today the fourth in the Beken family line of photographers, Kenneth, is at the helm, sharing the workload with Peter Mumford, a qualified yacht master, ex-commercial diver, Baltic Exchange shipbroker and photographer, who joined the company in 1992. Together this dynamic photographic team have recently steered the company through a seismic move away from working with film-based cameras of old to the latest digital photography.

“I was trained to spot when a yacht was sailing at its best from a very young age,” says Kenneth. “We used to hand print from large glass plate negatives. But now that digital cameras and printers are as good as the traditional darkroom methods the company has gone totally digital.”

Capturing racing yachts in action is however no less a challenge today than it was when the company first started. “You have to be afloat and you have to be in the thick of it to get the best results,” says Kenneth. “There are literally hundreds of people calling themselves marine photographers, but to sell any of your results you have to be better than the rest and that only comes from experience.”

Beken of Cowes Shop

The Beken duo use 16.7-million-pixel Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II cameras to create the hair-splitting, super-fine detail of 50MB files. Kenneth and Peter have years of experience in expertly manoeuvering their two identical 40-knot Boston Whalers to exactly the right spot on the water to achieve the most favourable angle for the subject. They can be seen in all weathers in the Solent area, adding over 50,000 new images to the Beken collection every year.

“I’ve photographed all over the world but prefer the Solent waters, as the weather is ever-changing and the light is not too harsh but borders on the soft and gentle,” says Kenneth.

The demanding offshore waters of the Channel and The Solent are happy hunting grounds for the Beken duo, as sailors from all over the world are drawn to the area and the sea is always busy with boats. Home-grown talent includes Yachtswoman of the Year, Ellen MacArthur MBE, who trains out of Cowes.

Kenneth is confident about the future of Beken, regardless of the wider world’s choppy financial waters. The company is busier than it’s ever been.

He predicts: “The public's love of boats, both ancient and modern, will always prevail.”

For more information and photographs visit Prints cost from £35.

Tel. 01983 297311.

Beken has been consistently better for well over a century, as its fascinating archive of close on half a million photographs dating back to 1888, not to mention royal customers, attests.

The secret to the company’s longevity is down to the Beken family’s genuine love of - and respect for - marine craft, as much as to their skill in operating a camera.

“Yachts are wonderful subjects to photograph,” enthuses Kenneth. “Each is loved and cherished by its owner and we have learned to reflect that devotion by getting the very best from our subject. My grandfather said that a yacht should be photographed like a lady: ‘never showing wrinkles and always at her best’!”

Tonnere de Breskens

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