by Jessica Payne

Duran Levinson is a cinematographer based in Cape Town, South-Africa. Over the past few years he has transitioned to make photography a larger part of his life and career. He focuses mainly on fashion, travel and portraits. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Duran to find out what makes him tick! 

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What first drew you to photography/and how did you discover it?
I was drawn to movies from a young age and played around with disposables growing up, but only when I went to college and decided to study film, I began to be inspired by cameras. I majored in cinematography and was able to shoot most of my projects on film then. After graduating and working for a few years as a camera operator and editor I started shooting on 35mm film again and developed a passion and immediate addiction to it. I’d say I’ve only been taking photography seriously and using it as my main creative outlet for about 3 years now. 

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Why do you take photos? 
I want to enjoy the moments, capture a split second in time and be able to remember the feeling I had when taking those pictures forever. Shooting images on film just makes it all that more special and interesting to me. 

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What do you think makes a memorable photograph? 
I’d say it is an image that encapsulates the viewer and gets their mind working. 

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What do you want viewers to take away from your work? 
I guess a sense of realness in a world that sometimes feels completely aloof. It’s difficult for me to know just yet since I still think I have a lot to develop and work on before I’d consider myself a specific type of photographer or artist. 

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What do you think are some clichés in photography that you try to steer away from? 
Honestly there are so many. I think I like shooting on film and working at a slower pace because I don’t just want to put a shitload of images out there that I think have no meaning or longevity. There are obviously the trends that come and go, like hyper graded digital images and types of portraits and fashion work that don’t personally speak to me at all, but at the moment I’m pretty much focusing on portraits and interesting moments that are semi-set up but not completely planned out. 

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What’s your useable-to-unusable ratio when you review images from a shoot?
I’ll usually gauge a shoot by using 1 roll of film, maybe sometimes less, that’s usually 36 photos.  When the light is good and I’m using a specific camera the hit rate can sometimes be between 10-15 strong shots on a roll. I’m pretty much shooting on Contax cameras at the moment and using auto focus lenses on those when I want to make sure every image is sharp and possibly usable.

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What were some difficulties you faced when starting out as a photographer? 
I started out with travel photography and didn’t have any set goals or plans for a photography career. I spent about a year not really knowing what to shoot or in what direction to go. In the past 2 years I’ve focused mainly on fashion, travel and portraits. Using my background in filmmaking and cinematography I’m able to work on those styles and focus on developing stronger images and new stories to tell. 

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Who are some of your favorite photographers and how did they influence you? 
I have so many. I was hugely influenced by Ren Hang who passed away 2 days ago (as I write this) Most of my work is based on Asian culture and the whole play on East meets West. I feel like Ren became one of the greats in a few short years with his bold and provocative work in this sort of style. I am influenced by a lot of cinematographers and cinema, such as Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai and his legendary DP Christopher Doyle. Instagram has obviously introduced me to hundreds of amazing artists, who’s work I follow and admire very much. 

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When you are shooting how much of it is planned vs intinctual?

I like to keep most of the shooting as spontaneous as possible. Unless it is a planned shoot with intent, such as a fashion editorial I’ll usually not even have locations or sometimes models locked down on the days of shooting. When I’m traveling, mainly in Asia I have friends and use Instagram to help me locate people I find interesting to shoot with. I like shooting with real people, who aren’t traditional models and putting them in a setting that makes it look like some sort of planned shoot. I think with the liberties of shooting film, it adds to the dynamic of being able to be free, and keep it loose & interesting. 

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Do you take photos more for yourself or others?
In the past 2 years I’d say I’ve aimed towards creating a strong photographic website. I think I’m finally happy with it and it is a constant process of updating and removing old images, being sure to showcase my best work (
duranlevinson.com)  I think lately I am taking photos for myself and working through them until I have a small selection that I’m happy to share with other people and post online.  I used to enjoy using Instagram but lately its become a bit of a chore, and I think because I’m so self critical I don’t post that much of my work on there. I am lucky to have gotten 12k followers and I try post a couple of times a week to keep myself active. 

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Where is your favorite place that you have traveled to work? Do you prefer working abroad to working closer to home?
Seoul, Thailand and Hong Kong are my favorite destinations for shooting so far.  
I’m super inspired every time I’m able to shoot in Asia and experience new places with people for the first time. I think it helps a lot with my photos, as I’m able to process new places and people into an image without any planning.

 

I love working in Cape Town, South-Africa, but like all places when you live somewhere you become complacent and tired of the same locations and situations. I find that I struggle a lot to make pictures when I’m at home as opposed to traveling.

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How do you find your models?
Through my friends, friends of friends, Instagram and while traveling abroad. 

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What advice do you have for the folks who want to get into photography but maybe can’t afford equipment?
Shooting on film is expensive and has a big learning curve in the beginning BUT if you keep at it you will become a better photographer because you have to concentrate and understand what you are doing before you take a picture. I can definitely say it’s helped me grow and develop as a photographer in the few years I have been shooting.

Digital is a great option for first time photographers as you can take as many pictures as you want and be able to understand the fundamentals of photography and grading etc. You can pick up cheap film cameras and cheap digital cameras second hand, and if its something you’re interested in then get a camera and don’t give up early. It honestly doesn’t matter what camera you use or how fancy and expensive your equipment is. Some of the best photographers and artists in the world use cheap and old equipment for a reason and it just works.

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Follow Duran in Instagram!

 

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