I have always chosen subjects that people want to see:
children, women and old people rather than men”
Göksin Sipahioglu (Izmir, Turkey, 1929), or rather a great old man: master of photojournalism, editor in chief of the newspaper “Instanbul express”, reporter in France for “Hurriyet” newspaper. He is the one who, in 1969, in Paris, founded with the American journalist Phyllis Springer, Sipa Press – the biggest private agency of photojournalism in France during the nineties. Appointed in 2004 Officer of Frances Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government’s Ministry of Culture and Communication, in 2006 he received a medal of Légion d’Honneur.
“Passions”, the personal exhibition that some months ago was dedicated to him by the Parisian gallery Basia Embiricos, is the starting point for our conversation with him.
DROME: Your photos have become icons. You have interpreted remarkable historical facts with emotionally involving images. It’s a bit like when a great writer is asked to comment on a reality or to carry out an investigation. Do you consider your photos faithful proofs of the atmosphere experienced in those moments?
GÖKŞIN SIPAHIOĞLU: I have seen many events that I couldn’t photograph… the conveyance, on military trucks, of nuclear missiles to Cuba, for example. Much more than dangerous.
D: Did you always prefer single subjects rather than the crowds. How did you manage, in the extemporariness of a photo, to capture all the most intimate feelings and their characters?
GS: This was my hobby. It’s been like a sort of empathy that prompted me to photograph certain people, without knowing – of course – what they were thinking.
D: Which is the aim of your image-based communication?
GS: Being the editor in chief of an important newspaper, I knew which were the right subjects for magazines and newspapers. I often took pictures choosing the subjects that people would have wanted to see, with regard to the most sensational news. Many other times I simply followed my inspiration, independently.
D: Children and teenagers in war are the subjects your camera prefers. Their faces show fear and terror as anger or the sense of hope, defiance,
austerity and determination… Do you think that children are the most revealing expression of a war or a country in a turmoil?
GS: The first children I photographed were young Palestinians who, in Beirut, were training to become soldiers. In 1970, Sipa Press worked together with Nicolas Hulot to publish a book on the revolutionary children soldiers.
I saw young soldiers in Cambodia wearing heavy weapons, bigger than themselves. It is very famous the photo of a Cambodian boy with a nice foulard wrapped around his neck, with a relaxed face, before a fight. Instead recently, you can only find serious children soldiers, in African or Asian countries as Philippines and Sri Lanka.
D: We remember major historical events easier through images than through written articles. Do you think that it can still be like that, even though photojournalism is completely changed with the advent of the digital era?
SG: Today there are thousand times more photographers than in the past, because digital photography make pictures developing easier. Now big agencies, as Corbis and Getty, offer a lot of on-line photos at a good price…
And yet, I’m still hopeful: most images published with regard to the Tsunami in Asia and the terrorist outrage on the London subway, were photos taken by witnesses-photography lovers. Newspapers and televisions often make use of photos taken by non professional photographers.
D: How did Paris influence your profession? How did you feel when you moved from Turkey to France, where after three years you founded Sipa Press, ready to compete against the renown Gamma and Sygma, Reporters Associés, Dalmas, Magnum?
GS: In 1966, VIZO agency asked me: “Why don’t you come to Paris? Here are the most important agencies”, so I risked… Paris was “the photojournalism Mecca”, also because many European magazines had their studios in the city and used to buy images directly from photo reporters.
D: In 2001, you sold Sipa Press to Pierre Fabre, a French industrial, who three years later sold the society to Sud-communication. If today you were still directing Sipa Press, how would you react to publishing and photojournalism crisis?
GS: Keeping good links with publications’ top editors, taking advantage of the technical quality of digital photography and finding out other newspapers’ unknown stories, as Sipa always did!