Moscow is no stranger to tourists when it comes to rich history and culture as it houses the iconic tsarist foundations such as the Kremlin, the symbolic Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral and more. Our friend Duran Levinson imbues his unique street-style portraiture by giving us a glimpse of youth and urban culture in Moscow through his own words and pictures.
I just spent the last two months in Russia. It was my first time there and I was lucky enough to visit in the summer where every day was hot. I went to visit friends and take part in some shoots for Puma and a few of my friends’ streetwear brands, such as Outlaw and Volchok. I wanted to try to photograph Moscow, focusing on street photography and fashion work. I knew a lot of models based there, as well as great brands that were keen on having me shoot look books and commercial work for them.
I find Moscow a hard city to do unique street photography in. That’s of course just my opinion but I struggled to get the photo’s I wanted a lot of the time. Much of what I’ve seen from other photographers I follow or like seemed pretty similar. I feel like the best places are the ones packed with tourists from Russia and abroad, such as the VDNK park, which has amazing architecture and Soviet stuff, which makes for fun backdrops. Outside of the city center is where the architecture and textures become more interesting and you can find more unique USSR style stuff, which I always tried to incorporate into my photos. The Izmailovsky Market is an amazing weekend flea market where you can find all types of stuff for sale and interesting characters walking about. I tried to photograph there most weekends with mixed results.
Everyone I photographed in Russia was Russian. I feel like I’ve developed a talent over the past few years to connect with people I’ve just met very quickly and it’s helped a lot with my photography career. I also shot with quite a few models that didn’t speak a word of English, but still, the photos came out great. The more I travel and shoot with different people around the world, the more I am able to meet like-minded and cool people even if we don’t share the same language or cultures.
I tried to do something interesting every day; besides shooting with brands and models I went to most of the famous museums and spots to check out in Moscow. In my second month, I got to venture outside of Moscow a few times to visit some smaller cities and experience some real Soviet-era culture – such as the Brutalism architecture of Zelenograd, a town not too far away from Moscow.
The most memorable parts of the trip included getting to partake in the BOL Festival and photograph one of my favorite hip hop groups, Death Grips. Shoot with some famous models, have brands like Vogue Russia and Puma sharing my work online, and being invited to some really fun parties and events.
I loved the fact that the people of my generation (millennials) and younger are all so cool and amazing to hang out with. The summertime in Moscow is beautiful and you can stay up all night and not even really realize it. Most memorable experiences involve riding bikes all over the city, watching the sunrise over the Kremlin, going on treasure hunts and shooting some super interesting people.
I am a vegetarian so there wasn’t much unique local cuisine for me to try (except the chain vegan restaurants) but I fell in love with Georgian food. Their version of veggie borscht, as well as cheesy bread and dumplings, were incredible for me. I remember visiting one particular restaurant many times to get that meal with my friends.
Moscow city center is very safe and nice to walk around. If you are interested in taking good street photos, try visiting smaller cities or zones outside of the center. It can be more dangerous in terms of being harassed by the cops or locals but the results were worth it for me. The best thing to do if you are trying to do something visually interesting is to have a fixer or a local who can speak Russian travel with you. I was in a situation where the cops were harassing me and trying to take my money when I was just walking down the street – that wasn’t so fun.
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