Rinske Former, “It’s beautiful when it flies”

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2016 (here). Softcover, 80 pages, with 31 color and black and white photographs. Includes an essay by the artist. In an edition of 50 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Rinske Former is a young Dutch photographer and recent graduate of the Royal Academy of Art. In her artist’s statement, she describes herself as “a modern romanticist”, stating that she “dreams and longs about things man can’t do”. Former’s most recent photobook (and also her graduation project) “It’s beautiful when it flies” reflects and explores these fanciful ideas.

Since her early childhood, Former has been fascinated by the romantic and carefree idea of flying. With age, we often lose our sense of openness and playfulness, and Former decided to revive this innocent feeling by “looking into the possibility of flying like a bird”. In her pursuit of this dream, she came across three men who build ornithopters, machines that try to fly by imitating the wing flapping of birds. This is possibly the closest that we humans can get to lifting into the air with the same feeling as those with wings.

Emily Dickinson’s poem Hope is the thing with feathers serves as an introduction to the book. In this poem, Dickinson compares hope with a bird: “hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul”. This sentiment sets an uplifting tone. The first image captures the sky with two birds as they soar into the sky with their wings fully open, a perfect symbol of limitless freedom.

The book develops two parallel but interwoven narratives. The main arc features the three men Former met while working on the project – Xavier, Jean-Marie, and Georges, and their fabulous ornithopters. Her portraits often show them at work with their machines, and her landscapes feature optimistic images in which the sky takes up almost half of the frame.

The second narrative is presented through nine loose pages and reflects Former’s own interest in the possibility of flying and her attempt to try on the wings. Photographed against a black background, the wings and feathers are seen in detail, and as we move further through the story, we see Former with the wings as she is taught to fly, even if “only for a second”. The captions for these inserts serve as place holders, but also fill in key thematic ideas – “fabricated wings”, “what is the distance?”, “too close to the sun”.

Former seems particularly fascinated by Georges, whom she met in Brittany, France. She remembers that she “expected a young man, and he expected the same”. Georges is about 80 years old, but his passion keeps him young. A former Air Force pilot “possessed by the desire to fly”, he tirelessly studies birds and built his first ornithopter over 20 year ago. In one image, Georges solemnly poses in uniform next to the cart he uses to move his machine, holding one hand on the cart and the other close to his heart.

Near the end of the book, there is a full spread image of Georges in the machine getting ready to take off. As he stands on the beach, the wings are fully spread and fill most of the frame. In the background, there is the sea and the houses on the cliff. The image leaves out the audience, but Former notes that “the beach is full of curious people”, surprised and fascinated by his activities. The next and last image is the sky, and the billowing clouds give us hope that Georges is indeed flying. The title of the book comes from Former’s conversation with Georges – “It’s beautiful Georges”. “It’s beautiful when it flies”.       

The construction of the photobook smartly reflects the central desire to take off and to fly. Delicate single pages can easily flutter, seeming ready to fly off the book. There are also a number of full spread photographs that force the viewer to occasionally turn the book around, in a way resembling the flapping of the wings. And extra white pages between the photographs add unexpected lightness and further space for imagination.

“It’s beautiful when it flies” is the layered realization of Former’s personal quest for flight and her larger fascination with people who live out their hopeful dreams. This elegant and inventive photobook shows that there is space for dreams in the real world, that “the unrealized possibility already gives you wings”.

Collector’s POV: Rinske Former does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via her website (linked in the sidebar).

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