Perpignan, fin de nuit blanche sur banc © Sabine Weiss / Collection Grosset
Five years ago, during one of the evening screenings at Campo Santo, Jean-François Leroy gave a very emotional tribute to his friend Mark Grosset, who died too young, at the age of 49 on August 14, 2006, tribute that deeply moved the “Visa pour l’image” company. Mark was one of the most fervent and most engaging of its supporters.
He was also my friend. Friend whom I often called by his two true legal first names: Mark Spencer Grosset. He would laugh when I did that. When I spoke to Jean-Jacques Naudet about my idea of writing a tribute to Mark, he replied, “But not serious memories. They are too painful.” He is right, but then what?
“I remember hearing him speak about his photo discoveries one afternoon in Moscow followed by an epic night with Jean-François Leroy in a Moscow nightclub,” Naudet went on.
Jean-François Leroy who was also his friend told me, “What do you want me to say? Whatever I’d be able to say would be too funny for words.” And indeed, it has to be said that the two of them knew how to live it up, as a few photographs prove. Claudine Grosset, Mark’s wife, gave me one to accompany this piece…the only one publishable!
You’ll have to get used to having hangovers. You will have to drink toasts to my health every time,” Mark wrote me just six weeks before he died, although he was still assuring me that “he would come to Visa only for two or three days….”
Mark viewed those who gave compliments with a lot of amusement. “It’s like book dedications…” he added, winking at me as he handed me his Khaldei, un photoreporter en Union soviétique. (Khaldei, a photo reporter in the Soviet Union).
So I’ve decided to forego personal testimonies, preferring instead to include some photographs from his family. I will only quote Goksin Sipahioglu: “When he was young and inexperienced, his father (Ed. Raymond Grosset, director of Rapho) asked me if there might be a position with us for his son so he could learn the profession of photojournalist. I hired Mark as a picture researcher when Sipa Press was still at 14 rue Roquépine. He was efficient and his ambitions were the good ones. His kindness to everyone made him loved and respected by all his colleagues.”
After that, Mark was at Imapress, until his mother, Barbara Grosset, made the same request to my associate Philippe Charliat at La Compagnie des Reporters. It was during long smoke-filled evenings with plenty to drink that we became friends.
Friends, and then competitors when he created Black Star France with a group of photographers who were already photo journalism stars. Then he joined his sister Kathleen Grosset at the head of Rapho Agency which his father was leaving.
When the group HFM (Hachette Filipacchi Médias), who bought the agencies Rapho and Top among others, dispensed with his services, he told me, “It’s great. These people throw you out with a check and a big cigar in your mouth. I wish you could have been there to see it.” One can’t be everywhere. However, we were together at the emotional moment when he closed the door of the agency, rue d’Alger “for the last time.” It was a little delicate for we were in a state which for decency’s sake I can’t divulge.
Already ill, he began a race against the clock to publish, after his biography of Khaldei, a retrospective of the works and the crimes of Stalin. I could quote a hundred personal testimonies about Mark Spencer Grosset’s professional qualities and his too short career but I’m going to leave the final word to the representative of the leader of the market, Aidan Sullian from Getty Images: “Our business attracts extraordinary people, devoted, intelligent, passionate and tremendously nice. Mark was all that and more and he is sorely missed.”
I would simply add that he is especially missed by young photographers to whom he was generous with his time and his advice.