Ning Kai and Sabrina Scarpa make a creative life and working duo. One of them comes from China, while the other one comes from the Netherlands, and perhaps that is the reason why their artistic mission has become to portray the land between them, or to say it better The Land Between Us. They met each other for the first time four years ago in Beijing, and since that moment on they began to undertake the same career and life path. Actually it is not only one path, since they have been looking for inspiration and stories in many different places and countries. Tibet, Yunnan, the Gobi Desert, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Iceland, or the Amalfi Coast are just some of the numerous places that have been immortalized by Kai and Scarpa during their wanderings.
In the era of digital media and digital nomads, travel photography has gone through a huge and fast change that has transformed its traditional forms and practices. On one hand, travel photography has become more democratic and accessible to a wider audience, especially thanks to platforms like Instagram. But on the other hand, it is often used as a personal statement or as a mere commercial venue, playing on the adventurous mood of the so-called ‘wanderlust’ but leaving aside the thirst for knowledge and discovery that enlivens photographers since the invention of the first Kodak. However, Kai’s and Scarpa’s ability to capture moments of intimacy and equality in the wilderness of nature and in almost depopulated areas leaves an open space for visual experimentation and poetry, or simply to an honest expression of photography.
Ning Kai and Sabrina, how did you meet each other and start working together as a duo?
We met and became a couple in 2013 in Beijing. Ning Kai was there for an exhibition and Sabrina did an internship at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre. Since 2014, we live in Zhengzhou, China. Soon after that we started making photographs together while traveling.
China and the Netherlands. How are your different cultural backgrounds reflected in your works?
Although backgrounds are an interesting aspect, it is not something we try to reflect in our work. It becomes rather irrelevant. We like to see our work as a conversation between us – as two human beings – and nature. Our aim is to create something universal; a language beyond words, a journey beyond borders, unity beyond differences.
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The Land Between Us is your first project as a duo. Can you tell us how did it start and what is it about?
We see the works we’ve done so far as one growing body of work. We don’t think in the terms of projects; it is work that is evolving. The Land Between Us was born from our experience of traveling between East and West. It represents and celebrates our united journey together and it is an ode to the essence of our existence. Eventually, we all share the same land.
Your pictures have a kind of blurry and vintage texture. Do you work with film? What do you want to achieve by creating these dreamy images?
Yes, we only work with film. It is the slow process and the more considered approach that we desire. At the same time, there’s always room for unexpected surprises. After making photographs we are by ourselves, alone with our thoughts, in the darkroom. It becomes very meditative. Our work reflects our attempt to convey the intense experience of beauty and the timeless harmony of the natural world.
You have described your works as “footsteps towards a timeless myth of earthly paradise”. What does it mean to you and how have you translated this concept into images?
There’s not a clear concept before making our photographs, except our desire for a life in harmony with nature. We try not to think when working. It is a record of our feelings in the moment. It is procedural and manifests itself over time.
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As we can see, nature seems to be the main character of your photographs. The atmosphere is quite evocative and the way you use light creates a sense of intimacy and wilderness at the same time. How would you describe your aesthetic and how did you develop it through your works?
We do not do this consciously, but atmosphere and lighting are very important to us. Light and colour provide a bridge to the spiritual and the profound. It reflects our feeling of awakening and enlightenment. The character of the works is born from what we experience while being in and with the landscape. We try to capture the soul or aura of nature rather than nature herself.
China, Sri Lanka, Iceland; you are always moving and traveling around many different places. What does the travel bring to your visual poetry?
For us, making photographs and traveling are inseparable. It helps us understand better the world, understand better the definition of life, as it becomes a complete journey to the essence of things. It expands our capacity for wonder and imagination. Traveling is a state of mind, an inner experience that lets us create a world of our own, detached from everything. It means a lot to us personally when we see all those places come together in one shared vision.
You’ve visited several countries and have been working together for quite a long time now. How has this journey affected you both personally and professionally?
It has challenged our boundaries and expanded our lives in ways we could have never imagined. It is a process of self-discovery.
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What was the most inspiring country that you have visited during your expeditions? And out of curiosity, could each of you tell us what’s the best / most recommendable thing of, let’s say, five countries that you have visited?
Each country has inspired us in many ways. It is impossible to name the best9 of each. What we have learned is that, in the end, the destination is never truly a place. It is about finding a new way of seeing things. Beauty can be found everywhere as long as we acknowledge it. Life is a wonder.
What is going to be your next destination and why?
This summer we will be visiting Scandinavia. We are deeply attracted to its wild, remote landscape and its simplicity. We keep returning to this part of the world.
Do you have some new project in store?
We just continue to make photographs. After this summer we will be in our darkroom developing and printing new works. In the future we hope to visit more continents. It is an endless journey.
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