Ning Kai and Sabrina Scarpa have been making art together for the last eight years. Coming from opposite sides of the world the duo tell us that they see it as their mission to portray the land between them. Their images, which focus on the beauty, simplicity and timelessness of the natural world, act as footprints, moving back and forth between East and West.
The duo are also committed to analogue techniques such as creating hand-crafted, chromogenic prints that also incorporate elements of mixed media. In doing so they aim to emphasize the importance of photographic prints as unique and meaningful objects that can be held and felt.
In this interview Ning and Sabrina tell us more about their artistic approach and why their partnership works so well.
Hello Ning and Sabrina. Welcome to Lomography Magazine. How did you two meet and end up collaborating?
We met in Beijing while Sabrina was doing an internship at Three Shadows Photography Art Centre. Ning was there for an exhibition. Our collaboration has organically grown from our relationship. When we began traveling and making photographs together, we found intense joy in sharing the creative process. It was an inner calling that turned on the light within.
Why do you choose to work together rather than individually?
Wandering together gives direction, and two pairs of eyes see more than one.
You say your "artistic mission has become to portray the land between us." Could you tell us a bit more about this idea?
Over the past eight years, we have traveled frequently between China and the Netherlands. Having visited places throughout Europe and Asia, our work is unbounded to a country or continent. Instead, it focuses on universality.
"Us" can be read as either the two of us or humanity as a whole. Every time we look at a map, we get reminded of how big the world is. Seeing all this land, thousands of miles apart. And yet, the Earth is what we all have in common.
Nature obviously plays a big part in your inspiration. Why are you so drawn to the natural world? And what do you want to communicate in your images of nature?
Apart from providing endless inspiration, the natural world offers us peace and solace. Nowhere do we find so much revelation and liberation. In all of nature, we see expression and a soul but also wisdom. Together in solitude, we find an intimate understanding of humanity as one feels the bonds that unite us all more easily. Experiencing these moments of clarity lets us grasp the meaning of life.
We seek to capture the essence and energy of the natural world and try to convey the beauty, poetry, and timeless harmony we witness therein. Without indications of location, we wish to blur boundaries between space, culture, and time.
Do you find that coming from two very different cultures, you are influenced in different ways that affect your work? And do you find that the mix of cultures helps your creative process?
Genuinely, our influences and interests are very much aligned. We both get a lot of inspiration from Asian and Buddhist art, Impressionism and Modernism. The variety and balance of Eastern and Western perspectives have broadened our horizons and enriched our creativity. An open mind is like an open window.
Can you talk about your choice to make chromogenic prints and use mixed media? Why is the physical aspect of photography important to you?
In an increasingly digital world, reconnecting to the tangible feels essential for us. We print our work by hand and seek to emphasize the material qualities of the photographs through the application of paint, and deliberate signs of wear, like frayed corners. In doing so, we can individualize the prints as unique objects.
We embrace the slower, almost meditative practice of the darkroom. It feels more fulfilling, as art, craft, and tradition have taught us the value of things. Eventually, it is the 'human' element that makes something authentic. It is the imperfect that captures the true spirit of the artist.
Which cameras and film stocks do you like to use?
We primarily use our Nikon F3 and Pentax LX cameras, and a fair amount of film—Kodak Portra 160 and Kodak Gold 200. We like to keep it simple.
Tell us a bit about your book, The Land Between Us.
Our publisher Imageless Studio approached us with the idea. We made the image selection in collaboration with the editor and designer by putting together a dummy and ended up sequencing by following the passing of the seasons.
What is your process of taking photos like? Are you searching for specific kinds of moments to capture?
We let intuition and synchronicity guide our way. We try not to think when we photograph and aim to observe instead of search. Time and again, moments unfold before our eyes. Moments in which we get suddenly transported by the things we see and feel the presence of a higher world. Coincidence is a divine language. Eventually, all things fall into place.
Any exciting projects coming up that you'd like to tell us about?
Last year, we participated in a Chinese mini-docuseries called 《拍照的人》"People Who Take Photographs." As part of the project, a group exhibition of the participants will be held in Shanghai this winter, and a book will be published. In the meantime, we continue to make new work.
Thank you to Ning and Sabrina for sharing your work with us. You can see more of their photography at their Instagram and website. Their Photobook, The Land Between Us, is available through Imageless Books.