Mark Grosset

Photographic agent at Rapho
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The Independent Online

Mark Grosset, photographic agent: born Paris 7 January 1957; Director, Rapho photographic agency 1991-2001; married 2006 Claudine Champenois; died Paris 14 August 2006.

The life of a photographer's agent is often a thankless one. There are many prizes devoted to celebrating their clients, but there are no prizes for agents; if there were, Mark Grosset, Director of the French photo agency Rapho from 1991 to 2001, would have received laurels by the armful. He was involved for his entire life with documentary and journalistic photography, his passion for the art and the business of photography never wavering.

In 1946, a decade before he was born, his father Raymond Grosset founded Rapho in Paris. Quintessentially French, the agency represents a style and approach to magazine and street photography, which in the 1950s and 1960s was to influence the whole world of photography. Mark grew up alongside his two sisters knowing some of the greatest photographers of the 20th century: Bill Brandt, J.H. Lartigue and Brassai, as well as Rapho's team that included Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis, Edouard Boubat and Sabine Weiss.

It is unsurprising that Mark Grosset chose to make his career in photography, but for someone of such an independent character he had to move away from home to serve his apprenticeship. He first joined Goksin Sipahioglu's Sipa Press, which in the 1970s along with Gamma and Sygma was making Paris the international centre for photojournalism. In the early 1980s, Black Star, the American agency noted for its documentation of the civil rights movement, recruited Grosset to be the director of their Paris office.

Like many of his peers Mark Grosset felt a strong alliance to the politics of the left. I remember one evening in 2000 when he was moved to tears of shame and rage, as it became known that Le Pen was to be the second candidate on the French presidential ballot and Mark knew he would have to vote for Chirac.

In 1986 he finally joined the family business and went on to direct the agency after his father's retirement, from 1991 to 2001. Mark Grosset's tenure as Director at Rapho coincided with huge changes in the business of photojournalism. The development of digital technology and the internet brought massive changes, but it was the entry of Bill Gates and Mark Getty into the picture business that changed forever the way that photographers worked. The business of photo-agencies was to change from a cottage industry, to a multi-national, high-tech industrial complex serving a global supermarket.

This was not a world that Grosset relished; he was a funny, warm man with a quick wit and a raucous laugh who enjoyed life: good food, good wine and good company were not a luxury, but a necessity. Towards the end of the 1990s he told me a story: the owner of a French agency was having at meeting with representatives of Bill Gates's Corbis, who were negotiating to buy his company. As lunchtime approached he asked them where they would like to have lunch? The American negotiators said they had sent out for sandwiches. At this point the owner rose to leave: "I will not sell my agency to people who eat sandwiches for lunch."

This was clearly Grosset's philosophy too. When he had to bring in outside investment to secure the future of the company it was a partnership with the French magazine publishing group Hachette. Even so, the business, even in France, had become one of digitising archives, zapping pictures around the world by email and shareholders' dividends, rather than about people and pictures and issues. As Grosset knew was inevitable, he and the new Rapho management parted company.

In the 1980s Grosset had travelled to Russia on tourist visas and held secret meetings with Russian photographers in order to bring images of life behind the Iron Curtain back to the West. In 2001 I went with him to Moscow to judge the Russian Press Photography Awards. Afterwards we travelled to the outskirts of the city to visit the offices of the Russian Union of Art Photographers. In the basement of a particularly dingy example of Soviet social housing we entered an Aladdin's cave of photographic treasures; there were the archives of some of Russia's 20th-century masters.

Grosset was to spend the rest of his life researching and bringing to the world the archives and stories of photographers during the Soviet era. The work of Evgueni Khaldei, Markov Grinberg and Maxime Dmitriev, little known before, was, through his efforts, beginning to receive more interest and attention. He published a book on Khaldei in 2004; the year before, he had organised a conference on six Russian photographers at La Maison Européenne de la Photographie, in Paris, and an exhibition at "Visa pour l'Image", the international photojournalism festival in Perpignan.

Before his death he was preparing a book, L'URSS sous Staline ("The Soviet Union under Stalin"), tracing through 250 photographs the history of the Stalin era from the 1920s until 1953. It will be published next year.

Neil Burgess