The death of
Jean Desaunois, founder of the photographic press agency Imapress, representing Camera press in Paris, died on Monday, May 23, 2011. He was 77. The funeral was held in Capbis, the small south western village in France where he had been mayor since 1973.
“The journalists at « Sud Ouest » remember Jean Desaunois as a distinguished man, humorous. When in the summer he would call on them to announce the events he organized in his village, he always used “Old French” courtesy, wrote the local daily.”
Although officially retired since the sale of Imapress in 2002, Jean Desaunois kept up a variety of Parisian activities. He remained the influential president of the French Federation of News and Photographic Press Agencies (FNAPI). Created in April, 1989, FNAPI members now include 24 of France’s foremost press agencies including Sipa Press, Abaca, Starface…
He was also vice president of the CEPIC, the European Photo Agency Coordination. An active member of the “Press” card commission, he was recognized by press agencies, elected leaders and Ministers. He was what is referred to in France as “an influential man”.
“He loved photography”, commented Gamma-Rapho president François Lochon on the phone from Nepal. For Beatrice Garrette, General Director of Sipa Press, “He taught me the ropes, transmitting his know-how, his love of negotiating, and his visceral attachment to the profession.”
“We owe him a great deal” confirms Hubert Henrotte, cofounder of Gamma and Sygma. Monique Kouznetzoff of H&K adds that “he was straightforward and experienced. He was one of those rare people that knows the business in all its aspects.”
“He was the first Frenchman I ever met” exclaimed Goksin Sipahioglu, founder of the eponymous press agency. “It was in Baghdad in 1958 when King Fayçal II had been assassinated and the army was declaring the Republic of Iraq. I was the only photographer there. Jean Desaunois asked me for the pictures, explaining that he worked for an agency that distributed pictures throughout the world. I was only there for my Turkish newspaper.”
Pierre Menochet, who was his longtime business associate and friend, met him during a reportage in Iran in 1961. “I brought him to Reporters Associés. After having worked in the Middle East, he settled in Paris and bought shares in Reporters Associés before becoming senior editor in 1964 or 1965…”
“He came looking for me at the APIS agency where I was covering political press conferences… On September 1, 1966, he hired me as photographer, and 8 days later I was covering the war in Vietnam! Isn’t that formidable?” Remembers photographer Henri Bureau (Gamma/Sygma). “He was also known for his outrageous temper.”
“I always got along with him” said Jean Monteux salesmen for Reporters Associés. He was always in a hurry, drank 10 coffees a day, slept only four hours… it’s amazing that he lived this long!” (He was born on August 11, 1934, in Tournai, Belgium).
“He was definitely speedy” confirms Jean-François Pekala of the Starface agency, the French representative of Polaris. “I wasn’t even 20 when I met him in 1986. He told me I knew nothing, that he had no money to hire me, and in any case, he didn’t need anybody. I suggested he sign a special contract with my journalism school (CFPJ) that wouldn’t cost much. I stayed until 1990. We argued a lot. When I left and founded Starface, I saw him a lot at the FNAPI. We weren’t friends, but I respected him. I was one of his “petits”, and I think he actually liked me. It’s true, he showed me the ropes, like he did for so many others.”
Press Emperor for the Shah of Iran
After leaving Reporters Associés, his friend Pierre Menochet followed him to the sumptuous Maison de l’Iran located on the Champs-Elysées, downstairs from Paris Match.
I was just a young laborer, remembers Mete Zinoglu who began working at Sipa Press at 16. “Goksin had me working corporate jobs. He would send me to the Maison d’Iran to take pictures of the immense portraits, ceramics and objects they frequently displayed there. Pierre Menochet would tell me what to do, but I could see the Monsieur looming in the immense director’s office! I was young, I never thought that one day I would actually talk to him…”
Throughout his life, Jean Desaunois would remain close, very close, to the court of the Emperor Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He was in Teheran towards the end of the 1950’s during prenuptials, then for the Shah’s wedding with Farah Diba on December 21, 1959.
After meeting Pierre Menochet, and for Reporters Associés, alongside local photographers, he “covered” the major events of the monarchy including the birth of their four children, the crowning of Farah Diba, or the incredible celebrations of the 2500th anniversary of the Monarchy. He produced numerous front-page photos and illustrated feature stories. He ran the Maison d’Iran in Paris from 1971 to 1978 until the Shah’s exile in France in 1979.
With his agency Imapress, Jean Desaunois would remain faithful to the Pahlavi family. He continued to produce exclusive picture stories and remained close to the family in exile. When Reza Pahlavi suggested the creation of a constitutional Monarchy in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Imapress was robbed and on the agencies walls was written, in Persian, a death threat. “It’s nothing” he would say to his worried staff.
In August 2004, when he was honored, in his village, with the Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur by Colonel Michel Maton, the shahbanou Farah Diba was there.