Alfred Yaghobzadeh, Göksin Sipahioglu, Phyllis Springer © Aline Manoukian
It was a long time ago in the early eighties, when I was responsible for photography at Libération. We were a poor newspaper whose audience did not reflect the economic reality. We were also a daily newspaper that loved photographers and photography – it was reciprocal - and we defended a picture style that, unbeknownst to us, was unlike any other. With so little money, it was absolutely impossible to send photographers abroad. Dependent on agencies, we were subscribers to the AFP photo service - of execrable quality at the time – out of which we tried to get the best results by re-cropping, and had a contract with Gamma, whose most interesting pictures were most often blocked, to our great frustration, by Paris Match and others. Sygma was inaccessible, due in part to their astronomical fees and to their tendency to sell to “major” papers. There remained Sipa, difficult to understand for the diversity of their photographers and sources, but we loved their slick salesman who only came from time to time, generally once a month, with stories he couldn’t sell elsewhere. We had in fact no turnover with Sipa, but the salesman would, in the absence of images, sell jeans, then answering machines, which were for him an additional income and for some of us a black market bargain.
One day I had coffee with Göksin to discuss, to see if anything was possible. It was clear that we could not cover sensible minimum sales costs. But he promised, and kept his promise, to alert us when he saw subjects likely to interest us. Then we talked about photography, our business, what I wanted to do with Libération. Laid back and playful discussions, amusing. Göksin loved sharing anecdotes about the newspapers whose production he acquired, both from his native Turkey to deepest Mexico. I remember one of those anecdotes. In 1982, when I moved to Mexico for a year, I asked him for a few contacts. He did so willingly and suggested I meet a gentleman who provided him with news documents. When I met this person, who was very helpful to me professionally, he asked me if I could negotiate with Göksin for him: he would have liked to be paid. I never mentioned our discussion to Göksin who, everyone agrees, with huge indulgence, that bookkeeping was not his primary concern. But when we parted after our first long discussion, he said, with a certain solemnity: "Basically, we are not so different, we like photographers. But you are more interested in artists and me, in journalists. " When I answered that the two were not incompatible, he replied simply "not always".
I never would have dared address him with the familiar “tu”, but he evidently took the initiative one day, I don’t know when, and it became the rule. I must say that I was always impressed with his natural elegance - accentuated by his fine, perfectly fitting suits - this former basketball champion I always had to look up to. Yet I never experienced that feeling I often had, even with people much smaller, of being looked down upon. A question of social class, for he who grew more handsome with each gray hair, was an undeniable seducer. One of those natural, effortless seducers. True or false, the wildest rumors spread about him, we long talked about how he hired a Rolls to get the picture editor of a major American magazine at the airport then treated her to Maxim's. It could have been true of a character we attributed a lot to, with tenderness.
Most impressive is this birthplace of photographers that, with the confidence of their leader, became the Sipa agency. The countless amount of illustrious photographers who started out at Sipa with a special blend of realism and paternalism, a love of the game and the pleasure of success. Like the scoops he no longer scored himself and that were once his pride, the success of his foals was delectable. That of the refined sensualist he was. Among them, there is one whose story is worth lingering on for it certainly explains better than others what Göksin confronted, what he endured and what he might otherwise have missed. It is that of Luc Delahaye. When Göksin bet on the young man, he did it like any other. Like Papa Sipa. Then he saw - for he had perfect vision – that he was right, the boy was brilliant, very brilliant. To the extent that, like others -- probably too many others – Luc Delahaye, whose signature became essential to the greatest news outlets, left for the Magnum agency. Every agency owner has experienced this, and the suffering, or at least the feeling of ingratitude that it generates as well as the desire, by sheer dignity, to not let it show. But I think for Göksin, more than for others, the suffering came the day Delahaye announced: "I am not a journalist, I'm an artist." It was no longer slight treason, but the collapse of a system, a way of functioning, markets that had sculpted a life and were inseparable from the trade.
I never dared speak of this with Göksin. A month ago, the last time we met, we just talked about Sipa’s future, that he had to so painfully leave. He just said: "It's ruined. It was a different way of life. "