Duran Levinson discovers the Asian streets he walks on at the same time the models that appear on his photographs do. He always likes to recreate a first time – a first place, a first model, a first shot. And that is what he conveys with his photographs; he offers the magical sensation of a first time, a first time that people love to gaze at and live again and again.
How would you introduce yourself and your work?
Hello, I’m Duran. Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. I am freelance cinematographer and filmmaker, spending my time between SA and Asia. I am a film shooter, and I have been photographing for two and a half years. I managed to travel in Asia and shoot mainly portrait and street photography.
Tell us about your photo albums in Asia. Why did you decide to go there?
I originally visited China two and a half years ago with a couple of good friends; this was my first time shooting photos in a serious manner on film. I only shot a few rolls and when I developed the images after the trip I managed to have a successful street style project that inspired me to continue shooting and documenting life and different cultures. I like to work mainly in Asia as it has so many beautiful cultures and people to collaborate with. I enjoy getting to go back to Hong Kong, where I have some talented friends I work with.
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Did you have in mind what you wanted to photograph there before going or did you get inspired once you were there?
A few weeks before I travel to a country, I’ll find new people to shoot with and organize some dates for shooting, most of my work is very spontaneous in terms of going to locations or meeting people for the first time on the days of shooting. I’m inspired by seeing something for the first time and keeping the images as simple as possible.
A lot of your pictures look so natural, as if the models were not posing. Do you prepare all the poses or do you simply let them do?
Shoots are mainly spontaneous and have a relaxed vibe, which could take 20 minutes or a couple of hours; it is always a fun and a full collaborative process. I don’t really reference other photos for posing or locations, as I try to do my own thing and keep the images pretty simple.
You have photographed people from different cultures and countries there. Can you notice these differences in the way they act in front the camera?
You definitely can, yes. That’s what I really loved about being in Seoul, South Korea lately. The people are obviously amazing, the fashion and different subculture scenes are vibrant and varied to the West. It’s cool to be influenced to shoot people in their natural state and environments. Hong Kong is a hub for Asia and a melting pot of different cultures and people. It’s so varied, quite small and easy to get around which makes tracking down photo opportunities a lot easier.
“I’m inspired by seeing something for the first time and keeping the images as simple as possible.”
Even though the photos are taken in the same continent, the style looks quite different. Those taken in Hong Kong look more sensual, while in Thailand it’s more about old people. Does it depend on what you feel every country conveys?
The cultures in all Asian countries are obviously totally different but share the same aspects, all of which influences me to visit and see these countries for myself. Hong Kong is such a great place as you can find anything you want and so many different people from all over the world living in a small-ish city together.
Thailand has such an interesting lineage and heritage and is a very beautiful nation rooted in their traditions. In Thailand I focused mainly on taking portraits of everyday people in the streets and documenting life as an outsider peering in for the first time.
As you have said more than once, you do not like the typical models for your pictures. How do you look for that different standard of beauty you want?
When selecting models to work with, I don’t look for traditional fashion or runway looking models. I would select generally interesting and beautiful people whom are creative or fellow artists. I find the process of shooting with real people who I consider beautiful and visually interesting to be a big part of my fashion and styled work.
Where do you want to travel to now?
I would like to visit Taiwan and Japan in the New Year to continue working on my Asian documentary projects. My top 5 dream destinations to visit and shoot outside of Asia would be Puerto Rico, Morocco, Spain, Iran, and Mexico.
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