Stephan Vanfleteren – Angels of the Sea

From 18 September 2020 – 5 April 2021, we are proud to present our exhibition Stephan Vanfleteren – Angels of the Sea at Het Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam. Vanfleteren (1969) is Belgium’s best-known portrait photographer, who often works in the Netherlands. He photographed a series of boys at the the Royal Work IBIS maritime school in Bredene, Belgium in 2016.

This school was founded in 1906 by King Albert I to provide a safe home to orphans of fishing families. There was a shortage of well-trained fishermen; at the same time the school functioned as a shelter for the fishing industry.

IBIS was established on a 43 meters long former cannon ship. This floating school had room for eighty children aged six to sixteen. At the age of twelve, the pupils left the ship to be accepted on board of fishing vessels, where they completed their training as sailors and fishermen.

Photographer and date unknown,
Frans Puystiens, pupilnumber 0260;
Richard Puystiens, pupilnumber  0269.
Collection Koninklijk Werk IBIS

The Royal Work IBIS has now welcomed more than 2,000 boys. Since this year, girls, too, are admitted. Shelter, care and training are now also provided to children with vulnerable family backgrounds. They still receive maritime training, but no longer sleep in hammocks, nor on a ship. The goal has remained the same: to offer children an opportunity to find their place in society.

Stephan Vanfleteren photographed the boys in their traditional sailor suits: the angels of the sea.

Sean, pupil number 2202, 2016 ©Stephan Vanfleteren