Jags Parbha – Why I Chose ‘Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue’

Note: Jags, amongst others, have been suggesting books for us to look at. We aim to choose one at least every 3rd month. If you would like to suggest a book, please email

“I was introduced to Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue on my first photojournalism course. The cover captivated me – a woman staring into a distance with desperate eyes and a syringe held tightly between her teeth – as if it were the last moment of her life and the syringe was her only possession. I was disturbed and intrigued.

Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue ©EUGENE RICHARDS

Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue documents inner city America during the 1980s, lives consumed by drugs, poverty and gangs, rather like the crime drama The Wire. I’ve always been drawn to work which explores the ‘other side’ of society, requiring the photographer to get under the skin of their subject yet remain impartial, something only possible with patience, respect, tenacity and courage. I was fascinated by how Eugene Richards, being a white man, had gained such trust and done exactly that, allowing him to take such close and personal shots.

Was he wearing an invisibility cloak? How did he do it? How did he develop the relationships? The book redefined the meaning of photojournalism to me – it raised the bar. The term is often overused and the story badly told, but not this time.

Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue ©EUGENE RICHARDS

Picture after picture captivated me, telling me a story and leaving me haunted. I realised that a great photographer not only becomes invisible to their subject but presents their work with a respect and dignity.

If a great picture is a thousand words, this is a great novel.”

– Jags Parbha

0 replies on “Jags Parbha – Why I Chose ‘Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue’”

As much as I concur with @johnedwinmason and the earlier Brent Staples critique on Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue and respect their opinions, I am more inclined to take up the Jags Parbha view of the work.
I feel we should not “shoot the messenger” in these cases and rather than a reinforcement of stereo types, found the work for me highlighted a very problematic social discrepancy which we now know has still to be addressed as evidenced by TV dramas like The Wire.
The demographic in the work for me was a consequence of the location in which the documentary was made and this location was possibly the one providing the more accessible material at the time of making.
Testament to the power of the work is the lasting effect of images that raises questions about the ability of wealthy first world society to exist in apparent oblivion of what might be deemed it’s underbelly.
As Jags Parbha states, “…a great photographer not only becomes invisible to their subject but presents their work with a respect and dignity.”
I prefer to applaud Eugene Richards as a photographer who is able to gain confidence and trust in such a situation in order to bring them to light, and reserve my scorn for the authority that allows such appalling human degradation to continue under their noses.

Jennie Ricketts.

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