His family name conjured the image of the spahi, the soldiers who went to war on horseback. His towering, lordly, sinewy stature made him a natural leader, both in the newsroom and on the basketball court.
Born in 1926 in Izmir, Anatolia, his career as a journalist began early. At age twelve, he headed an investigation of subterranean Istanbul. His stubbornness and force of character were legendary from the beginning. ‘The Stork’ (as we affectionately called him) became first a founder, then a player, and finally the captain of his sports club in Istanbul, and soon enough a member of Turkey’s national basketball team, sportswriter, photograher, then editor-in-chief of the Istanbul Express, the evening daily whose layout he reconceived to emphasize photography.
His gift of foresight, his curiosity and his careful analysis of social, economic and geopolitical events led him to found a political journal. He collaborated at first before assuming leadership to ensure the journal’s direction; as a leader, he was nothing if not sure of his decisions, and his were decisions nothing if not subversive. Hardly stopping to catch his breath, he left Turkey in 1956 to cover the Sinai War. From then on he was always the first on the scene: the first to enter Communist Albania; the first to stay and work freely in Cuba during the missile crisis, posing as an innocent sailor; the first top reporter in suit and tie at Hürriyet, the largest Turkish daily.
He wrote the text for all of his reports and took the pictures that accompanied them, always with an ear to the ground, listening for the next scoop. In 1968, he left for Paris to take in the air of the Latin Quarter and cover the May protests. It was then that he noticed a missing link between the creation of images and their distribution. He was certain that the photographs he was taking could be distributed to, and printed by, newspapers across the world. So with his partner, Phyllis Springer, he founded, “the world’s largest photo agency,” SIPA, which began in what was likely then the world’s smallest office, albeit on the world’s most beautiful avenue, the Champs-Élysées.
We tend to forget that Göksin was also a distinguished photographer in his own right, an archetype of the intrepid reporter from journalism’s halcyon days. A recent exhibition of his work revealed not only his sense of framing, his penchant for movement, his empathy and his humanity, but also his ease when working in difficult light, his vigilance as photographer, and his ability to choose subjects that have since become History. These are the same qualities that gave Sipahioglu, both as a man and as an agency director, such a fine for talent. He knew how to identify, encourage and promote photographers today acknowledged as masters of photojournalism: Abbas, Alexandra Boulat, Luc Delahayre, Catherine Leroy, Yan Morvan, Reza, Michel Setboun, Vladimir Sichov, Christine Spengler and Alfred Yagobzadeh, who together have told us the story of our modern world.
With his great charm and refined manners, his endless stories told with a dry, British sense of humor, he was like a character stepped right out of a novel. He was a dear, delicate, peerless friend. Now in the « waterfalls » at the Grande Cascade, his favorite restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne where he would lay out for me his next grand project, I will always hear a sad melody.
Agnès de Gouvion Saint-Cyr