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Duran Levinson

words Zarah Cheng
All images are from Duran's portfolio.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in a lovely little place called Cape Town, South Africa.


What got you into photography?

I remember enjoying photography as a teenager but I never knew how to use a camera as my voice and perspective. After finishing school I went traveling for a year, then came back and enrolled in film school. I fell in love with cinematography and the psychotic-like aspects of the film industry. I was lucky enough to be shooting film while studying. Soon I was shooting all the time and as things progressed into the digital age, shooting on film was not only enjoyable but made me realize how to use a camera to tell stories.



You only recently started taking photos but have already developed a very powerful voice.  How would you describe your photography? 

I’ve been taking my analog photography a bit more seriously for about 1 ½ years now – everything on my website is from mid 2014 to present day. I’m still developing and constantly working on my visual style, but I’m inclined towards darker storytelling with ironic, unsettling or humorous subtleties.

Many of your travel photos document the grittiest and most candid aspects of cultures around the globe.  How do you approach capturing these moments?

I’m pretty much just an overexcited tourist with a camera, to be honest. I’m really interested in visiting countries with different cultures and mindsets. I like seeing what strange situations I can find around the next corner.


What are the meanings behind your travel series’ titles: Transitions in Bloom (China), Sadness Comes Home (Capetown, South Africa), and Some People & Nobody (Europe)?

Being in China for a while made me realize a lot of crazy shit about “the human condition” and it opened my mind up to the magic of street photography. I spent a month shooting all day and night, cruising around on a skateboard in a country with basically zero crime taking photos. I went there with two artist friends and we constantly pushed each other creatively for about a month, and it was amazing. After developing the photos from that trip I realized a need to take more photos, only on film and tell stories. I’m going to be going back to China in the future to continue this project. 

Some People & Nobody was an opportunity to go on tour with one of South Africa’s best rock bands, The Plastics, for a month-long tour in Europe. I went to document the trip and to shoot mainly video but was able to shoot 2 rolls of film on the tour. We all fell in love with Prague, got to play a festival and network like crazy. The atmosphere was super positive, but the architecture so gothic and dark it just dictated what I shot. By the time we reached Berlin, I was literally going to burn my passport so I didn’t have to leave. Berlin is one of those places, a creative hub where everything and everyone is too fucking cool. I felt super inspired by the history and all the friends we met up with. I ended up in London for two weeks, going wild with old friends and sleeping a lot.

My photos from Sadness comes Home is basically a personal ongoing-curated selection of photos I’ve taken while working around Cape Town, and hanging out in the city center. I ended up spending the last couple of months building a fashion portfolio and these photos are just a look at what I consider real Cape Town street photography, documenting some of the people I’ve met in the past few months.



You’re currently working on a documentary piece on Rwanda.  Can you tell us a little more about this?

I’ve recently returned from Rwanda, where the whole purpose of the trip was to travel the whole country, document it, tell stories and take photos basically all day, non-stop for two weeks. I shot 10 rolls of film in 2 weeks, which is a lot for me.  

I went by myself and met a few contacts there. I had no idea what experiences I was going to have, but I ended up capturing what I think are some powerful images. I created a photo essay-styled project as a pitch. The project itself is 3 different styles of photography, with the main project taking the focus along with the essay.  It’s a contemporary African piece from an outsider’s perspective. I used everything I’ve learned about filmmaking and photography to take these photos. I’m currently working towards getting it published by the right people. I’m pretty excited to drop it on my website and social media.

I ended up shooting a music video and doing 3 fashion shoots while I was there. The fashion photos are up on my website already.  I’m also finishing off test prints for my first self-published book entitled, I’m Fine Today, and I’m pretty excited about it. It’s going to be an A4 softcover with about 100 pages of curated photos. About a third of the book features photos from Rwanda and a fair amount of unpublished work, as well as the favorites from the above mentioned travel projects.


You have a pretty extensive body of work as a cinematographer, including numerous music videos you’ve shot and directed.  How has this influenced your documentary and fashion photography?

Getting to work in the film industry has opened me up to a lot of people and situations I wouldn’t normally find myself in. I’ve gotten to learn a ton from being on Hollywood sets for the past couple of years and assisting on many projects. Making music videos has always been a passion and I love getting to work with my friends, so many of them are musicians – it just makes sense. I love getting to work with my friends, and it’s always fun getting to shoot and direct projects. Being around people creating cool stuff all the time has just pushed me to create more art, in any way possible with like-minded people.


What is your next travel destination?

I’ve basically just been booked up on two big feature films shooting here from September until next year, which means very little time for creative projects, but I’m going to hopefully go visit friends in Hong Kong and spend a few weeks back in China next month.

What creeps you out the most?
Mediocrity, sour milk, the way people act on social media, and probably public bathrooms in China the most. 



You can see more of Duran Levinson's work at: | IG: @duranite

Posted on August 4, 2015