Alfred Edward Beken, originally from Canterbury in Kent, moved to the Isle of Wight in 1888 with his son Frank and purchased an existing pharmacy situated in the small port of Cowes, famous for its International Sailing Regatta.
The sight of yachts sailing past his bedroom window made such an impression on Frank that he decided to capture these images on film.
After several attempts it was soon obvious that the cameras available at the time were not suited to the rough seas encountered, so Frank designed and had built a new style of camera. Instead of the usual canvas bellows, he used two wooden box-frames. One enclosing a screw-thread focussing system and shutter, with the other frame housing a viewfinder.
It was in fact a forerunner to the later twin-lens cameras although his was fired by biting a rubber ball held between the teeth!
It was Frank's bedroom window that also provided the light source for his 'daylight powered enlarger' which enabled him to make saleable prints from his negatives.
The Beken Pharmacy sold these photographs alongside their medicines and perfumes and undoubtedly due to Queen Victoria's Royal residence being nearby at Osborne, it was recorded that five crowned heads of Europe visited the Pharmacy premises at one time!
Frank was joined by his son Keith in the 1930's. Keith had qualified as a chemist and during WW II skippered an Air Sea Rescue launch based in Cowes. Keith photographed the famous J-Class, started the colour photography in the 1950's and later took his cameras to various sailing regattas in the Mediterranean and Caribbean.
Frank died in 1970 and it was decided that the pharmacy should be sold and the photography side of the business should stand alone. Keith was joined by his son Kenneth and a new company called 'Beken of Cowes' was established exclusively photographing afloat and selling the marine photographs that have made the Beken name famous throughout the sailing scene.
The Beken of Cowes Marine Photography Gallery is now popular with yachtsmen from all over the World who come to see the classic historical photographs as well as the colour images taken of today's racing and cruising craft.
Keith retired from photography afloat in the mid 1990's after taking the famous photograph of the "Silk II" pitch-pole incident. Keith died in February 2007, aged 92.
Peter Mumford, who joined the Company in 1992, became the other half of the photographic team in 2001 and steered the Company through its recent switch to digital photography, a decision only made once digital quality could exceed results from film based cameras.
Kenneth & Peter operate from two identical 40 knot Boston Whalers which can be seen in all weathers in the Solent area adding about 50,000 new images to the Archive throughout the year.
Source and cont: Artist website