The Many Faces of Shanghai, with Duran Levinson

Photos and words by Duran Levinson 

2017 was a year of self-discovery for me.

It started off in Cape Town (my hometown) where I began a new relationship, moved photography from my hobby into my main career, and decided that I wanted to spend the year abroad. I was able to land an artist residency at Shanghai-based production company High Horse Studios, where I spent five months freelancing on commercials, music videos and taking photos in my downtime.

Shanghai is a crazy place to live. As a city, is it a monster metropolis with more skyscrapers than New York. It’s easy to feel like you’ve gotten sucked into this mega-city and you can’t help but feel small, like you don’t belong. Then every so often, you’ll go around a corner or down a side street and feel like you’ve gone into a time machine, back 30-40 years into an ancient Chinese city. I love the clash of modernity with ancient culture, which makes for great juxtaposition and photo opportunities. The people in Shanghai are super friendly and the attitude is very much ‘each to their own’.

As a foreigner, it’s easy to have what the expats refer to as ‘the Shanghai blues’—days when you are feeling completely out of place and not enjoying living in China, for whatever reason. But those days pass. I realised that as an expat in China, you can get away with more than you could elsewhere, like Europe, Africa or America. I was able to take a photo of basically anyone, at any time, and not get in trouble for it. People are generally inquisitive and just want to see what’s going on, instead of being aggressive or going crazy. This enabled me to gain the confidence to point a camera at anyone and develop some photo projects.

Shanghai is an amazing city that I would highly recommend for a visit, and for some street photography. It’s got everything you want from a culture shock, but is the softest place to land if it’s your first time visiting China.

To see more from Duran, check out his website, Instagram @duranite or come have a look at that time he took us around Bangkok here.

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