Goksin Sipahioglu: Acclaimed photojournalist who went on to found the Sipa agency
Saturday 08 October 2011
Himself a daring frontline photojournalist from the 1950s onwards, Göksin Sipa-hioglu founded the Paris-based Sipa photo agency, which went on to become one of the most respected and most successful in the world.
Following in the footsteps of the great Magnum co-operative, which had been launched in both Paris and New York after the Second World War, Sipa attracted some of the best photographers and photojournalists from around the globe, perhaps best-known for their coverage of wars, disasters and other major stories.
Having spent most of his life in Paris, Sipahioglu was dubbed "le Grand Turc" by the French media. He launched or accelerated the careers of some of the greatest photojournalists and war photographers of recent years including the Iranians Abbas (Attar) and Reza (Deghati) and the Frenchmen Luc Delahaye and Patrick Chauvel. "He managed Sipa as a father," the agency said, announcing his death.
Sipa, still providing many of the photos we see in our papers, TV screens and online every day, was one of three Paris-based agencies – along with Gamma and Sygma – that dominated world photojournalism from the 1970s until the digital revolution allowed freelancers to transmit and sell directly to media outlets. In those pre-digital days, photographers would send their rolls of film via international courier services – or sometimes by persuading or paying an airline passenger to "pigeon" their film to someone from their agency, who would pick them up at the arrival gate.
During his own career behind the lens, initially for Turkish newspapers, Sipahioglu was one of the few "western" reporters or photographers in Havana during the 1962 missile crisis. With President Kennedy poised to take out Soviet missiles on Cuba, Havana was not high on the list of places to be for normal foreigners. But Sipahioglu stayed, and conveyed to the world much of the tension of the time, famously capturing a young, armed civilian girl protecting a Havana bank on behalf of her revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. That and many of his other images of the crisis appeared on the front pages of countless US newspapers.
Six years later, in 1968, juggling wide-angle and zoom lenses and going through dozens of rolls of film, he was one of those photographers in between riot police and student and other protesters in the streets of his adopted Paris. His photo of a well-dressed woman in high heels, pleading to riot police amid exploding tear gas canisters on the Place Mabillon, became one of the enduring images of the uprising. Another showed a girl student sticking a flower in the hat of a wary policeman. He went on to work for two of the major international photo agencies, Black Star and Gamma.
Sent to Munich in 1972 to cover the Olympics, Sipahioglu found himself visually chronicling the Palestinian attack on Israeli athletes and its bloody outcome. His international recognition for those pictures led him to launch Sipa the following year along with his girlfriend, the American journalist Phyllis Springer (whom he would marry almost 30 years later). They started out in a tiny office on the Champs-Elysées.
Göksin Sipahioglu was born in Izmir, Turkey, in 1926. After attending the French Lycée St Joseph in Istanbul he helped found the Kadiköy Sports Club, now best known for the Efes Pilsen basketball team. He later studied journalism at Istanbul University. After making a name for himself in Turkey as a photographer, he received international recognition for his 1956 photos of wounded Egyptian soldiers after Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula during the Suez crisis.
He sold Sipa in 2001 to France's Sud Communication group, owned by the industrialist Pierre Fabre, although he stayed on as chairman until he retired in 2003. In January 2007, then French president Jacques Chirac appointed him Knight of the Legion of Honour.
"Sipahioglu was the greatest photojournalist ever," the French photojournalist Jean-Francois Leroy told the British Journal of Photography. "He helped so many photographers ... giving them their first assignments. He had a unique position in this industry. He was a giant."
Göksin Sipahioglu, photojournalist and agency founder: born Izmir, Turkey 28 December 1926; married 2002 Phyllis Springer; died Paris 5 October 2011.
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