Duran Levinson is a 29-year-old cinematographer and film photographer from Cape Town, South-Africa.
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Having spent the last 4 years traveling between Asia, Europe, and Africa, Duran has captured many cultures and people for his various photo projects. As a full-time freelancer, Duran is constantly on the move, creating content either for himself or brands who are embracing his visual style and ideas.
Interview by Dominique Musorrafiti
China-Underground: When and why did you get into photography?
Duran Levinson: I started taking my film photography seriously about 3 years ago. I went to film school and consider myself a cinematographer, as that is where my passion lies. When I picked up the photo camera again I was inspired as I was shooting on 35mm and really enjoyed the whole process.
I was originally able to visit China for the first time in 2014 and this is when I was inspired to start taking photos again. It’s been 3 and a half years now that I have focused most of my time on photography and film and I couldn’t be happier.
“Hong Kong is the most suitable city for street photography” Vice
C-U: What are the main topic and focus of your photos? What do you want to tell with your shoots?
DL: I try to keep my photos as simple as possible. I like to photograph people in their natural environments and spaces. I would say my photos are a mixture of street, fashion, and portraiture.
In terms of the story I want to tell with my photos, I just like to create an image that can invoke some sort of emotional connection from the viewer, with them being able to create their own story or narrative. At the end of the day, I want to just release pictures that I think have these story-telling qualities.
C-U: What about your first time in Asia? What inspired you most?
DL: The first time I was in Asia I spent a month in China. I was extremely inspired by the cultures, the people, and the settings. It felt like a whole new world and it lit a fire inside of me to try and capture that. Ever since then I have returned to Asia every year to focus on photography and documentary projects.
“I find portraiture to be the type of photography I am most interested in.” Lomography
C-U: What makes China a unique place to take photos compare to others?
DL: I feel like there is a huge creative gap in China to produce content that is unique and original. I enjoy the craziness and being able to get myself lost in the clutter.
This year I spent 5 months in Shanghai, doing an artist-residency at ‘High Horse Studios’ along with my freelance photo works I was able to concentrate on shooting some video work and assisting on music videos and commercials.
It was great to see how these scenes operate in China and are able to input my work and style into some of these projects. China has this wild side that I haven’t seen matched anywhere else in Asia. As a photographer, this is super interesting to see because it is truly unique and there are many opportunities to capture that.
C-U: How would you describe your photography project in Hong Kong?
DL: Hong Kong is a city I very much love being in. I feel the most inspired and passionate when I am in Hong Kong. My work there consisted of basically shooting my friends, in their settings and mixing it up with photos I took in the streets.
Hong Kong has the most visual eye-candy I have ever seen in one place and being able to immerse myself into that really helped with those projects.
C-U: Do you prefer to work on photos stage or spontaneous shoots?
DL: Most of my work is somewhat spontaneous. I like to try capture a moment more than something planned. There is always an element of planning in my shoots, whether it’s the clothes, the location or the model, but at the end of the day, at least 50% of what is captured is unplanned and completely spontaneous.
I feel like this is something that has developed into my work and I want to continue to keep an element of that to develop my visual style.
C-U: Can you share with us any story behind your photos, taken in China and Hong Kong, that makes them special for you?
DL: My Hong Kong photos are probably the closest to me because I made a deep connection with a lot of the people I photographed.
Through photography and art, I have been able to make amazing friends around the world and connect with people I would have never met, so I am very grateful for those opportunities and chances.
C-U: Does your experience of shooting in Asia influenced and changed your way to see the world and people?
DL: Yes. I love the cultures of Asia and how every country is so unique and interesting. Traveling and spending time in Asia influenced my life and opened me up to a part of the world I had no connection with before.
I’ve taken peoples practices and ideas, just small things here and there and have implemented them into my daily life.
C-U: What is the main reason for a photographer of shooting films, during digital era?
DL: To me film is just special and has a unique quality that cannot be replicated in digital. I have no problem with shooting on digital but I cannot emotionally connect to my own photos that are on digital.
That is why everything on my website and Instagram is completely analog as it’s a feeling and style I have continued with and will keep doing. I love the entire process of shooting on film and seeing those final results for the first time. It’s a process that can be expensive and stressful but the final result is often worth it for me.
C-U: What medium did you use most for your project in China and Hong Kong, films or digital? Why?
DL: Everything is on 35mm film. I love the format and I have a few film cameras I love to use.
Photos courtesy of Duran Levinson