“Maybe I will travel and see the great outdoors. I do tire of the city and imagine days spent lying in fields of flowers and gazing at my reflection in crystal waters”, states Judy the Doll. From documenting Camden’s pub and party scene to now bringing a sex-toy to life, photographer Robert Lang invites us to peak into the diary of Judy, a blow-up doll that questions her purpose and her desires to live beyond the expectations the world has for her. The Emancipation of Judy, his latest photo book, features a series of intimate self-portraits and an insight on Judy’s thoughts, where empathizing with plastic becomes inevitable. 
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Looking back on your past work – Girls Girls Girls, Filthy Gorgeous Camden Town, and your most recent book, The Emancipation of Judy – females have consistently been the main characters in each of these projects. Is there a particular reason for this?
Females have more fun in front of the camera and have been very trusting of me when thrusting a lens into their personal space. I love the saying “Bad girls do it well” and that definitely has played on my aesthetic. Guys too have played a role in front of my camera and their time will come too!
You moved from Durban (South Africa) to Camden Town (London) when you were just nineteen. Did you know back then that you wanted to pursue a career in photography?
Not at all. All I wanted to do was get out of South Africa and explore, as I had never been anywhere else. I was always that guy with the camera taking photos at parties or of friends so I guess it was a natural progression to end up here. My first professional assignment was photographing at London Fashion Week for Vivienne Westwood’s Fall/Winter 2009 Red Label show. I bought my first professional camera the night before and had no idea how to use it. So I peaked over at what the other photographers in the pit were doing, copied them and hoped for the best. I guess I have always had a DIY approach to photography as I didn’t attend school for it and am still learning new skills.
The Camden of today obviously isn’t what it used to be in the 2000s. Was this change of scene what motivated you to move from Great Britain to the United States? How has Los Angeles and American culture influenced you and your work?
I moved six years ago to Los Angeles but it was more for a change, as everywhere in London seemed too familiar and became routine. I’ve lived on Venice Beach and loved the grime and chaos of it all and called it ‘Camden-On-Sea’. I have always been drawn to the dirty side of society, and Los Angeles really is a bold statement for that, as it’s very rough around the edges but has a lot of character.
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Having photographed many candids of fun and passionate subjects, did you find it challenging to create a persona for Judy the Doll and to translate an object’s life, fears and desires through your work?
Within a backstory, a narrative is created. So building on that I imagined what she would want from the future. It was interesting to see how a slight angle change and an arm placement could change the mood of the photo. The final product of the photos certainly evoked emotions of joy, sadness, shyness, courage and conviction.
Do you think The Emancipation of Judy will cause some controversy regarding feminism in the sex-toy industry?
I’m certainly no advocate for the sex-toy industry, but I think it is wild that as humans we are moving at such a rapid pace in technology and could use this knowledge for the greater good but, instead, the first artificial intelligence life-like-robot will be a sex doll. It’s a billion dollar industry and it definitely caters to a market, but there are feminist sex-toys already out there created by women. I think the term ‘Sex will always sell’ is really being put to question these days.
Through your book we see Judy the Doll from her own perspective. How did this idea of the doll taking self-portraits come up?
I had worked with a blow-up doll before for a menswear lookbook and always liked the concept of an inanimate object to possess human or personal characteristics, as if it had a persona. The backstory was already there and I found the disrespect this object received interesting, which led to the idea of Judy creating a diary form of intimate self-portraits of herself to convey her personality and who she is and wants to be. The photos were taken in my home only with natural light and there’s no post photo editing to stay true to form, as if she was really photographing herself.
How is Judy the Doll? How would you describe her? 
Judy is fine and she is out road tripping America finding herself!
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"The theme of existentialism was pretty evident as the theme of choice and freedom played a large role in the concept of Judy.” It’s very common for people to go through periods of self-questioning and existential crises – significant or small. Do you think this depiction is something your audience will be able to identify itself with?
Self-doubting yourself can be so deliberating, but pulling yourself through it and moving on can also be very powerful. I self-doubt myself all the time and question why I do this and if anyone will care, but if you don’t put yourself out there, how will you ever know the outcome? I feel having an existential crisis is something everyone experiences at some point in life. I am still to meet someone who has his/her shit together.
What is the most important thing you consider when selecting photographs and curating each series?
The photos must have a cohesive running dialogue and tell a story. I don’t go for shock value; I like to choose the quality of an image and to think of how it excited me the first time I saw it, and if it has a great story to recount.
In addition to the photo series and book, you’ve also created a video for Judy the Doll, in which she is depicted in a vulnerable state. In what ways does this video contribute in telling more about Judy’s story?
I was driving through Hollywood one evening and this song called Mad Rush by Philip Glass performed by Donald Joyce came on the radio, and I instantly knew I had to use this in a video for Judy. It’s quite an emotional piece of music and represented the concept of her perfectly. The final scene is very dramatic, with the slow camera pan out to show Judy’s full profile. The emotions emitted are excitement, happiness, pride, desire and passion. Like the future is promising. You can’t watch it and not feel empathy for her. That’s the power of music.
Actually, for your two latest projects we have seen a video that accompanies each series of images. Do you feel it’s easier to communicate the feeling and story of each project through this medium, and are films something you would like to further explore?
I have started doing videos in the last two projects just for fun, to accompany the photos. But now I’m going a bit in the opposite direction, where film is coming first and the images second. I like the idea of playing with two senses instead of one; joining the sight and the sound can change the mood dramatically, which you don’t get to do with photographs.
What can we expect to see next?
I would like to see The Emancipation of Judy exhibited in Los Angeles, where the project was conceived. But for now I just wrapped up a short film I made, which is my reimagining of what the paraquel to Kenneth Anger’s The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome would be. I will be releasing it in July, aptly titled Return to the Pleasure Dome, and hoping to send it to short film festivals. Also I’ll be releasing a zine of photos documenting over six years of Venice Beach local characters, focusing on how tech firms are taking over Venice and how the locals are approaching this.
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