by Jean-Lou Bersuder
Portrait de Goksin Sipahioglu aux jeux olympiques de Munich © SIPA
A friend had advised to have the films I had shot in Koweit processed in the new E6 lab of Sipa press in the Rue Roquepinne in Paris (1978).
While I was looking at the results on one of the light table, a man leaned over my shoulder and looked at colorful slides of Bedouin’s carpets in the desert,he asked me were I had taken these pictures, and invited me in his office to talk of Lebanon that he had known when he was still a young journalist. He told me of his country (a picture of Kemal Ataturk) was on the wall behind his desk covered with magazines and newspapers.
He scratched his back with a superb dagger that was always on his desk. Within the hour we were on the same wave length and he offered me to help him find money to invest in the agency and to become partner.
I did try to find funds but understood quickly that Sipa was a bottomless pit. Which did not stop me a few years latter to become one of his freelancer in Lebanon. Much latter working next to him I understood that the energy of this man was worth millions that no bank or partner could match.
The first time he gave a check I asked him to sign it , but it is signed I looked flabbergast at a few lines made slopilly et was always happy that the bank knew his signature. For official accreditation we always made him write his name.
A few years latter after the invasion of Beyrouthby the Israeli during the summer of 1982after the massacres of Sabra and Chatila and the deployment of international forces. I decided to become a photographer , but I needed an agency. I came to Paris in December. Gamma was not interested for them nothing out of Lebanon could be of interest after this eventful summer.
I went to Sipa and asked Goksin if he was interested in sending me to Lebanon. He immediately accepted , gave me a round trip ticket and some money, wise decision in April the US embassy was destroyed by a car bomb. I discovered the pleasure of being published, of receiving monies and the events followed each others the attack against the Drakkar, against the US Head Quarters .
1987 Hostages taking was on the increase in Lebanon, a friend Roger Auque is taken, we had spend the previous evening together. I decided to leave Lebanon until all hostages were returned. I travelled to Paris and thought of living there and found myself at Sipa trying to understand how it worked. Phyllis welcomed me with « here is a new refugee » and took me under her wing., teaching me to edit a story, write captions and texts.
Ounce Jocelyne Manfredi, Goksin assistant asked me to replace her , she needed a Holiday. She put me at her desk across from Goksin handed me her telephone books with numbers and informations of hundreds agents and photographers. Things went so well that Goksin asked me to stay I worked next to him all summer 1987 never talking about a salary.
He himself came to me in September and told he had just learned that I had never mentioned money during all these months He offered me good pay that would increase without ever asking. He taught me all the ropes , I had only to listen to him talking about all the famous pictures. He breathed press.
Many years latter head of the photo department of the lebanese daily An-Nahar I remembered when Goksin was mad when we came late at the editorial meetings. He was the editor in chief and I understood the why of these daily meetings.
I saw him distressed when we had money problems, worried when a photographer had been hurt paying out of his pocket to bring him back to France, happy when we had worked well. I have always seen him openning Paris Match that Michel Chichepotiche his first salesman brought back a light in his eyes when looking at published pictures. He never hesitated calling Mr Therond to congratulate him on a News cover of Paris Match with very strong pictures by Langevin a Sygma photographer. His fight was for news pictures space within the magazine world.
I Have also seen him as a sugar daddy with the photographers he loved. Who did not have a dinner in the best restaurants? Which pretty woman photographer did not get a present just a fine gesture? He was truly generous and money did not stick in his pocket.
How many photographer have met glory and riches thru his magic him who knew how to change depression into creative energy. You became king of the world with the support of Goksin. One should have seen him in Moscow he dominated all the officials of Tass and Novosti who looked up at the man so well introduced in the western media. Wojtek Laski has pictures of Goksin in Red Square , he was happy , may be did he think of the young turkish journalist who dreamed to conquer Paris , and who had been penniless .
Who remember Zlata the little girl from Bosnia who wrote a book during the siege of Sarajevo? She was called the new Anne Frank Goksin immediatelyy sent Alexandra Boulat with a mission ,to bring back Zlata' s copy book and take pictures of her. Alexandra succeeded and even brought back Zlata and her parents. Goksin contacted an editor and her book became a world best seller she was even received by Bill Clinton.
I Have also seen Goksin cry : When Peter Phyllis son that he thought as his own passed away, when Patrice the errand boy was killed going to the airport, when Naki chief of the messengers disappeared while on holidays in Turkey or when Jean Pierre Pequenard left suddenly.
Often with Goksin we talked of Islam for him it was about tolerance. He had been brought up by the jesuits in Istanbul , his best friends were an armenian and a jew. He knew this verse from Mahomet who ask all muslim to act in life as if one would die on the morrow and also to act as if one would never die. In this sens he was a good muslim, but he did not know that he would be eternal the day after he passed away nor that he would leave behind so many orphans.
I will have a good fish meal in Istanbul or at the Closerie that he liked so much ( they should name a table after him) and will think of all the meals we have shared. "But for ounce Goksin let me invite you"