A senator who compared professional photography to mobile phone pictures has been accused of making “highly insulting and derogatory” comments about people working in the creative sector by the photographer currently working on the set of Fair City.
Last week it emerged that RTÉ had begun a €240,000 tender process for photographers to take pictures on the set of the popular soap.
The job and the cost - put at €60,000 a year - was highlighted at the Oireachtas media hearing last Wednesday at which director general Kevin Bakhurst appeared along with other senior RTÉ executives and board members.
Mr Bakhurst subsequently said the process would be paused following his decision to halt discretionary spending at the national broadcaster as it grapples with a funding crisis.
At the committee hearing, Fine Gael Senator Micheál Carrigy expressed shock at the size of the fee and said that his assistant was able to take pictures on his phone for nothing.
“I’ve asked my assistant to take a picture of me speaking here and I’ll show it to you in about two minute’s time and it won’t cost anything to be able to do that,” he said.
In response, photographer Beta Bajgart who is the current holder of the Fair City stills photography contract wrote him an open letter which she posted on Facebook on Monday evening.
“I was very disturbed by your remarks questioning the legitimacy of this work in last week’s Oireachtas committee,” she said.
“I found your remark highly insulting and derogatory to all people who work within the creative industries,” she said, adding that while she would have hoped it did not need to be said, “your ignorant comment of reducing a photographer’s work to such a level, astounded me so much that perhaps I do need to explain.”
She pointed out that “any photographer’s work is not just a matter of pressing a button on a smartphone, no more than the only aspect of your job is presenting at the Oireachtas.
“The job of the contracted stills photographer on Fair City is to take photographs of the scenes and actors for publicity purposes, as is industry standard for all soaps including UK soaps.”
She said promotion press packs form an important part of the show and are “going out every week to all printed, online and TV platforms in Ireland and the UK.
“The photographs of scenes need to capture the story in one frame, so they need to be taken separately, after the scene is filmed. The photographer has to be present during rehearsing and filming and needs to be able to direct actors and communicate with the whole crew in the most efficient and shortest space of time. The average time the photographer spends on the sets of Fair City is about 30 hours, three full days a week plus time editing, post production enhancement, prepping the packs, administration, email, meetings etc.”
She also noted that the photographer on RTÉ's Fair City is an “independent contractor who does not receive any benefits that you and your colleague are more familiar with for example.
“There is no pension, no paid holidays and no sick leave. If the photographer needs to be off work for a day, they need to subcontract and pay another photographer to cover for them. The work cannot be done remotely. They have to buy and update their own equipment and because they are required to carry a professional camera and computer to work, they mostly need to drive their own car.”
She said the “utter disregard that the photography profession received in the press in the past week, compounded by your derogatory remarks feeds into the damaging stereotype that art and creative professions don’t deserve the same respect and financial benefits as any other profession.”
She pointed to cinema, plays, galleries and television and wondered if he believed they too were “superfluous, and something we can “capture on our smartphone” free of charge.
I would argue that none of these are superfluous. The importance of art and creativity in every single aspect of our society and our lives is, in fact, the point.”
She invited him to “rethink your outlook and make a public apology for the ill-considered remarks you have loaded on all creative practitioners in our country. A representative in your position should refrain from such insulting comments and make appropriate redress for them.”
In response to queries from The Irish Times, Mr Carrigy said he had highlighted the cost of the contract and his view that it was an unnecessary expense. He added the actions of Mr Bakhurst in pausing the tender suggested he too agreed. The senator concluded by saying he had nothing but the height of respect for the profession of photography and was not making a personal judgment of any group.