After visiting China in 2014 equipped with a film camera, Duran Levinson’s passion for travelling throughout Asia began. Adding his love for photography to the mix, he takes us on a journey of raw, spontaneous beauty in the mundane. Much unlike the polished photography that is abundant today, he likes to present his models as the real people they are; stripped off of the superficial glam of retouch. Meet the artist who’ll make you want to catch a flight as soon as possible to meet and discover the underground scene in every country he sets foot in.
What made you become a photographer? Do you remember the first photograph you took?
I wouldn’t consider myself a full-time photographer. My passion lies in all things when I have a camera in my hand. I studied cinematography and have been working with cameras for the past eight years, but before that, my passion wasn’t really behind a lens. When I was a child and a teenager, my father owned a pharmacy and there was always a few disposable cameras lying around the house. I had no major interest in documenting life but I enjoyed taking photos of my friends skateboarding and growing up.
I love to document life and exert myself creatively by taking photos and making videos, it’s just become the greatest passion in my life.
Your photographs focus on showing a city/country and its inhabitants in a way that is very pure, underground, and authentic – unlike the mainstream travel photography we’re used to seeing. It shows us a side of the area that we might not have seen before. What is the message you would like the individuals of today to come away with?
There is no direct message behind my travel photos unless I work on a project with a set goal (like the ones I’ve done in Africa). I like to keep it spontaneous and free. I suppose that’s because I am interested in certain subcultures and types of people, and that influences my work in the way I choose the models and locations.
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What Asian country did you first visit that sparked the fire to work on the other series? Do you recall any specific impact that made you decide to start exploring other neighbouring countries?
The first Asian country I visited was China, in 2014. I went with some friends and that trip sparked my interest in film photography. I only took five rolls of black and white film with me and travelled around for a month, only taking a photo when I felt the moment was completely right. That film mentality is something I carry with me to this day. After that trip, I was hooked and began to take my photos a bit more seriously. Its impact left a lasting impression on me and was definitely the spark to my photographic career.
Most of the cities/countries presented in your work are within Asia: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea. What aspect is it that propels you to constantly travel there for work?
I definitely have an obsession with Asian culture. I love how every country has its own set of ideas. I also love the mentality and inspiration I receive when I am there – and I see the effect it has on my photos. I suppose I feel freer to create the content I really want to do in Asia, as opposed to Europe or Africa. I wouldn’t box myself into shooting just there, but I really love the vibe and am generally happy with the results after each photo mission in the continent.
Did any of these places create a lasting impact you in any way?
Travelling to new countries and having the opportunities I’ve had has definitely left a lasting impact on me, especially mentally. I lived in Shanghai for a few months last year and was able to travel quite extensively. I picked up things from the Chinese culture, be it mental or physical, that I have implemented into my everyday life. I feel like travelling is one of the best ways you can live your life and create experiences that are unique and fulfilling to one’s soul.
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A lot of the cities/countries that you have photographed have very rich culture and many different aspects to it, how do you choose what to photograph and present?
I try to capture as much as I can, not in terms of amount of photos but in variety. When it’s the time to select and put the stories together, it really comes down to what works and looks good together. A lot of my oeuvre is based on spontaneous moments – like street photography – and I try to incorporate that feeling and vibe into the portrait and fashion work that I also shoot.
Is photography perceived differently in Asia than in other places you’ve been? If so, how?
I guess everyone in the world perceives photography differently. Everyone has his or her own opinions and tastes. In China, for example, there is a lot of censorship around art and culture so there is a lot of red tape around explicit art or something that goes against the government’s ideas. In every country I’ve been to, I’ve met open-minded people with opinions similar to mine, so there is always a market to show my work and have people relate to it in a positive way.
While the standard of beauty is changing to include more diversity, it still is pretty limited to skinny and white. However, I see that a lot of the models you portray do not fit in the conventional standard. Do you select them based on the goal of being unconventional or is it more about the vibe you would like to convey?
I like to shoot people I’m friends with. I’m not interested in shooting typical beauty models. I like to show them as the real people they are, not the done-up Photoshopped versions of themselves. This is also why I shoot all my work on film and limit the amount of post-production. I like to shoot with unconventional people and create editorials that are more interesting and have more substance than just a ‘beautiful’ model in a beautiful location.
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In a lot of the countries you’ve been to, going with the crowd and fitting in is favoured as opposed to sticking out. South Korean society’s perception of tattoos is a great example. Do you face any restrictions when looking for models?
In my past experiences, I haven’t faced any problems with shooting. When I was living in Shanghai, there was always the frustration of not being able to be totally free and having to find ways to work around that. In Seoul, there is a huge tattoo scene, but having a tattoo shop is technically illegal without a doctor’s license. Artists will always find a way to make it work. And it’s like that in most Asian countries: people find ways to work around the restrictions that the governments have implemented for their own reasons.
Your photographs are always very raw and personal, there is no sort of censorship at all. Do you face any barriers in order to achieve the final result?
I haven’t faced many barriers with releasing my work. I will always make sure the models and the people I photograph are happy with the pictures before releasing anything. I always find the creative process stronger when it’s a collaboration, and I like to follow that way of working until the job is done.
What would you like the future to hold for you in terms of both your work and countries you would like to visit?
I’d like to keep growing and learning with video and photo work. I want to be able to constantly challenge myself and get better creatively and as a human in general. Being able to freelance and travel has given me opportunities that I am very grateful for, and I hope to use them to improve my work and myself as a human being.
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