by Eliane Laffont
Paris, 24, rue de Berri, Goksin Sipahioglu, Phyllis Springer © Graeme-Baker/SIPA
GÖKSIN SIPAHIOGLU, a.k.a. SIPA
It’s difficult not to feel deeply moved by the passing of Göksin Sipahioglu, founder of SIPA Press and one of photojournalism’s great adventurers. Others called him “Sipa” but his photographers, even those who no longer worked for him, called him “Papa” and always spoke of him with admiration and tenderness.
I met Göksin in New York in 1973. My husband, Jean-Pierre Laffont, Hubert Henrotte and I had all left the photo agency we had founded in the US, Gamma, to start another one, Sygma. Göksin told me that he had founded SIPA after Gamma-Paris had refused to listen to any of his ideas!
Even if this amusing story is mostly legend it still offers an accurate portrait of the man: a fighter with unparalleled powers of seduction and an outsized personality—and an outsized person, too, at six and a half feet—full of spirit.
But I came to discover was that he was also a magnificent journalist with a keen eye for young talent. I worked with several photographers who began their careers at SIPA: Sylvain Julienne, Christine Spengler, Patrick Chauvel, etc.
Not many of them stayed at SIPA, which had its chaotic side, but they all had fond memories of their time there. Patrick Chauvel told me a story about which I still haven’t stopped laughing:
Sensing an imminent story, Göksin wanted Patrick to leave for Vietnam as soon as possible. Patrick asked him for “an advance,” so Göksin went to the coffee machine and came back with a handful of change...
But we shouldn’t forget that there was a man behind these anecdotes. Göksin was above all a great journalist, always on the lookout for the next scoop. We went head-to-head for the hottest stories in the world’s hottest spots. The news was big, the competition ferocious, and the rivalries between agencies, legendary. But I never viewed Göksin as “the competition”; he was a formidable journalist, a brilliant editor and the founder of an agency that, along with Gamma and Sygma, made Paris the world capital of photojournalism.
When he finally had been forced to leave his agency and we spoke at Visa Pour l’Image in 2003, he remarked to me in his inimitable Turkish accent: “What we need now is an agency that only deals in pictures taken with cell phones.” And when today we see photos from the “Arab Spring,” we see how SIPA was yet again one step ahead, and as eager as ever to create the agency of the future of photojournalism.
We’ll miss you, Göksin!
October 5th, 2011, New York