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VOICES

Fair City Photographer 'It's not just a matter of pressing a button on an iPhone, senator'

Photographer Beta Bajgart responds to criticism of her pay for photography work on the set of Fair City.

Last week, the RTÉ scandal rumbled on with station chiefs appearing before the Oireachtas media committee. Spending cutbacks and a hiring freeze were announced by the public broadcaster.

RTÉ also received much criticism over the tendering process to acquire promotional photography for its flagship soap, Fair City. It emerged it was planning to pay €240,000 on a multi-year contract for a dedicated photographer to take a minimum of 16 approved still photographs a week of Fair City and its production. RTÉ later suspended this tender process.

In a tetchy exchange at the committee hearing, Fine Gael Senator Micheál Carrigy questioned RTÉ Director General Kevin Bakhurst about the contract and said he could ask his assistant to “take a picture of me speaking here and I’ll show it to you in about two minutes’ time and it won’t cost anything to be able to do that”.

The current holder of the Fair City contract is photographer Beta Bajgart. She says she gets paid nothing of the amounts referenced in the Oireachtas committee. She has written this letter to Micheál Carrigy in response outlining why she feels his views undermine the work of creative professional photographers like her…

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Dear Senator Micheál Carrigy

I am the current holder of the Fair City stills photography contract. I was very disturbed by your remarks questioning the legitimacy of this work in last week’s Oireachtas committee.

I found your remark highly insulting and derogatory to all people who work within the creative industries.

Your response “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”, is potentially insulting all my colleagues working on Fair City, a beloved, long running Irish soap that has seen so many Irish actors careers develop on both the small and big screens.

Firstly, not that I should have to, but your ignorant comment of reducing a photographer’s work to such a level, astounded me so much that perhaps I do need to explain.

I would like to clarify for you 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. Promotion press packs form an important part of the show, 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.

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. The photographer is responsible for their own insurance and must have in place all measures required to service a public provider, including GDPR, health and safety measures and quality assurance measures. They have to provide this service without any disruption, all year long, that is the nature of the contract.

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.

Yet, I ask you? What do you watch on an evening in, a night at the cinema? Do you enjoy a music gig, a theatre production, or a visit to the galleries? Perhaps none of these should exist, perhaps these are all 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.

I would like to invite you 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.

Yours Sincerely

Beta Bajgart, photographer.

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Reprinted with the permission of Beta Bajgart. 

VOICES

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