Personal Reflection: Kate Osba on ‘Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue’

Richards’ ‘Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue’ had a big effect on photo editor Kate Osba, her personal reflection is below.
You can find Richards’ images on his site under GalleriesCocaine True, Cocaine Blue

Everyone remembers their first love; their first kiss, first rock song that sounded like its lyrics were written just for them. My first love of a photo book happened by chance (or as I have always assumed, fate) in my college library on a late weekend night. It was my second year and I was trying to get through a paper I had no interest in. Avoiding my noisy neighbors I walked around the library floor and found a corner desk with a lone book with a navy protective cover and no title. I brushed the book aside and focused on my blank screen. While inspiration refused to strike, I picked up the sticky book and opened it, thinking nothing of it. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It hit me within seconds – I was looking at something incredible. I couldn’t stop looking, carrying it around in my bag for weeks, pausing randomly throughout the day to focus on one intense page. To this day, as I sit here looking at the images that haunted me for years, I still wonder why it was this book that found me.


Something about Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue fired me up like nothing else. This man, Eugene Richards, had gone into one of the worst neighborhoods in New York at that time, alone, and documented a world that I had never been able to see. Growing up as a middle-class white girl in Manhattan, I knew there were parts of my city I would never know. This took me somewhere I never wanted to go to, but couldn’t stop looking at. Every shot was so rough, gritty, intense. At the time I thought to be a photojournalist, one needed to travel to a far off country to document war and suffering, I had no idea it could be a subway ride away.  It’s cliche to say, but those pictures are burnt in my mind. If you asked me to name the situation in each frame today, I could do it.


To say a plastic coated book in a 70’s style library changed my life sounds silly, but it did. The following summer I interned at Magnum, just to be a few steps closer to the eyes that saw these things. On my first day I mentioned to my boss that Eugene Richards was my favorite photographer, and never to let me see him in person because I might literally have a heart-attack. He handed me a yellow envelope and told me I needed to bring this to Gene Richard, with an address, HIS address in my sweaty hand. To say my encounter was awkward is a generous understatement. While Mr. Richards wife told me to wait a few minutes so that I could meet her husband, I immediately told her that I needed to pee and she offered her bathroom. My response was that I couldn’t handle peeing in Eugene Richards bathroom. This might be the first time his wife was ever scared of an intern. Anyway, I met him and it was fine and I managed to not pee on myself, I met him again a few months later and was less awkward – thank you, red wine.


I still get that feeling when I see someones work that is great, that weight in my heart, unconscious smile – though nothing will ever feel like it did in that library, but that’s okay, that’s what first loves for.

Reluctantly, I threw the address away.

Kate Osba

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