Stephan Vanfleteren – Angels of the Sea

This summer, the Dutch National Portrait Gallery and Het Scheepvaartmuseum will be showcasing the photo exhibition Angels of the Sea by Stephan Vanfleteren (1969). Vanfleteren is the best-known portrait photographer in Belgium, who often works in the Netherlands. In 2016 he photographed young people at the maritime school the Royal Work IBIS in Bredene, Belgium.

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.

The Royal Work IBIS has now welcomed more than two thousand boys. Since this year, girls too are admitted as apprentices. Shelter, care and training are now also provided to children from difficult family situations. 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 a place in society.

Stephan Vanfleteren photographed these young people in their traditional sailor suits: the angels of the sea. Dutch National Portrait Gallery and Het Scheepvaartmuseum show a selection of these portraits from October 2020 to April 2021 in Het Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam.

Noah, Koninklijk Werk IBIS, Bredene, Belgium, 2016 ©Stephan Vanfleteren