Using his 35mm film camera, South African photographer, Duran Levison takes things back to the basics of photography.
At 29-year Duran Levison has forged a name with popular publications hankering for his fashion/documentary images. His commissioned work evidently keeps his aspirations for personal work alive.
After three years travelling in countries like Rwanda Duran Levison has produced gritty enthralling images. In his most recent series, he delves into the dichotomies of youth and tradition in Hong Kong through portrait and elements of documentary.
Talk about Cape Town and its impact on a young Duran?
South-Africa is a developing country with a lot of struggles and hardships but I am lucky to have the life I do. South-Africa gave me the street smarts and capabilities to hustle. I implement that attitude into the rest of my life. I grew up in different parts of the country but I was lucky enough to settle in Cape Town. This city is the best for creativity and art in South-Africa. Living there gave me a passion for art, film-making, photography and traveling. I subsequently solidified that passion into a career.
How did those formative years make an impact on you into the visual arts?
I attended film school in the beginning and that was a blessing and a curse for me. There was an element of luck because I fell into what I wanted to do with my life but attending art school is a big waste of money. I tried my best to use those few years of studying to work on projects and find my passion. It wasn’t until I finished my degree that I became interested in photography and more specifically film photography.
Talk about the practical journey into photography how did you hone your skills and where?
I developed my camera skills at film school. Afterwards I spent 5 years as a camera and visual effects assistant on Hollywood feature films and series being shot in South-Africa. I learned a lot about lighting and film-making on those sets and used that knowledge whenever I picked up a camera to shoot video or photos.
It’s evident you are an explorer.
I’ve spent most of my savings and the last 3 years of my life traveling. Currently I have an agency in Shanghai and I am shooting a lot in Hong Kong-generally I mainly work between South-Africa and Asia. I just returned from 2 months in Europe, where I was based in Berlin. Now I am in the process of developing all those images and getting them ready for publication in 2018. I tend to be about 6 months backlogged when releasing my work.
Having travelled through Asia for three years, I feel a deep connection to the country.
Can you recall that initial time where you realised that you had a passion for visual arts/photography what was it, who by and how did it make you feel?
It was in 2014 when I was in China for the first time. I broke my digital camera and I only had 1 film camera with me. So I shot 6 or 7 rolls in a month, all black and white. Then returned to South-Africa and developed the pictures. The results were amazing and I was able to release a project on various platforms. After the initial success of the first project I continued to shoot and travel until I had enough content to start pushing myself as a film photographer.
There’s a real passion for the 35mm.
Definitely-every image on my website is on 35mm film. Once I picked up the film camera I realized the power in film photography and how much I really love it. The process gives me a reason to take images. I shoot in digital but it doesn’t connect with me on an emotional level in the same way.
So, to your amazing work-there’s a real affinity with the Orient. Explain your interest and it seems passion for those countries.
Asia really does inspire me a lot. Every country is so different to the next. Every culture is unique, every country has its own feeling and vibe and that’s what I love about visiting the different countries and taking images. Having travelled through Asia for three years, I feel a deep connection to the country. It really feels like my second home in many ways. I get inspired, every time I travel, see new things and make new memories. Those are the most important factors for me.
Your images really capture the modern and traditional of the Orient-is this intentional or merely an organic result?
I honestly don’t have a specific intention or plan. It’s about shooting a lot of portraits-people on the street and things I find interesting. My intention is to shoot what I see. Put a little bit of myself in the photo and keep it as honest as possible. I am connected to capturing everyday life, the people and the way that matches my state of mind at the time.
You seem to mix street photography, with almost fashion like shots and of course documentary style-where does your heart lie or is it more complicated than that?
Street and fashion are my favorite types of photography so for me it’s just normal to mix the two. I shoot most of my editorials on location and I’m always looking to give my images a documentary feeling. I don’t consider myself a studio photographer. It’s just got to a point that it feels normal to mix the 2 styles. I’ve been working on that style for a while and I can see it developing and growing.
Talk more about youth culture in the Orient. Your images capture a real sense that youth culture in the Orient is lively, vibrant and eclectic?
I would say that the youth culture is exactly that, vibrant. When I am shooting people, I am not looking for typical models. I’m looking for alternative people from different subcultures and scenes in their cities. I want to capture real people that I have a connection with. It’s important I do not follow the norm. There’s a connection to the film camera, the grittiness of some of these countries and the people I shoot. I guess I want to mix it all together when I am taking images of youth culture in Asia.
Your images really capture the dichotomies of the cultures you immerse yourself in.
I never planned it I suppose. It started with the street photography, then I moved onto taking more photos of people. Then I started working on a fashion portfolio, after a while I began to shoot all my fashion and portrait work in a similar style and merge these ideas. Right now, I am at a point where I am starting to try something new with my film cameras and the way I am shooting. I just want to constantly evolve and improve myself and the work.
If possible is there an image you have captured which captures the essence of Duran Levison and the vision for his work?
After giving it some thought, it would be tough for me to focus on a single image. As a photographer, I don’t want to be recognized as one type of photographer or put into a box. I’m always pulling back from labelling. That’s why I don’t even advertise myself as a full-time photographer. I would prefer to let the work speak for itself. If I had to choose a project or something that I would say represents my mind-I think it would probably be the work I recently completed in Hong Kong (on my website) and the fashion and portrait work I just shot in Berlin (which will only be released in 2018).
Last conversation you had about creativity that had a profound effect on you?
When I was living in Shanghai I met a lot of interesting people. I was freelancing a lot with Vice China and my good friend Billy, a producer at Noisey. He was always inspiring me with his stories about Chinese cultures and traditions. We talked about the usual deep stuff. The meaning of our creative lives and what we want to do with work and how we spend our time. As a freelancer who spends a lot of time on a computer, it can be super frustrating and stressful when you don’t know what the next month will hold. My like-minded friends and I are having these conversations quite a lot.
What projects are coming up?
A few music videos I will direct, releasing a fashion film I shot in Asia, releasing about 10 fashion stories from Europe, releasing my solo book in London, releasing Backchat Boys 3 and a few other zines. I’ve started planning my next solo exhibition for Cape Town too.