The Politics of High School Yearbook Portraits


Welcome to our “Capture” series where we talk about current News that we have “captured” throughout the day that involve or relate to Photography directly. Two stories captured today actually relate to each other.

In a recent study from social marketing firm Mediakix, 93% of Instagram posts that promoted a brand were not following FTC guidelines

According to the FTC:

It sent more than 90 letters to prominent Instagram users, reminding them to “clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands.” The agency also warned that common disclosure tactics—such as including the hashtag #sp or putting a “sponsored” label near the bottom of a post—are not sufficient.

Companies and marketing firms make sponsorship and endorsement deals with celebrities to promote products in their regular Instagram posts. 

Celebrities receive free merchandise such as maybe a $5000 Coach bag or Gucci sunglasses and other swag to use for FREE in exchange for plugging the product. This research shows that while the celebrities with large followings are in deed utilizing and showing off their swag, they are not active enough in the plugging of the brand with appropriate visible hashtags and the like.

This brings us to another news story out today……Wall NJ High School Student has his shirt depicting then presidential candidate and now current President Donald Trump’s logo and slogan photo-shopped out.

The students name was Grant Berardo who is one of 2 students to have their Trump logos photoshopped along with a student having a slogan removed. According to nobody informed Grant that the shirt was not allowed and as a junior there was no picture day dress code enforced. The photo taken was delivered to the Berardo family as proofs with the Trump logo intact, and the photo with the Trump logo was also used in his student Id intact

It is common knowledge that any kind of logo depicting a brand of political, social or religious means should not be used in class photos. The main focus of the photos should be the students themselves.

Band logos are OK, cartoon characters OK, movie characters, sports teams, etc…all of these are OK as the wearing of such doesn’t lead to a representation or endorsement of any kind of product or policy.

This is also important because one of the ways that school yearbooks are paid for is through advertisements. Companies pay for advertisements to be placed in the back of the yearbook. These companies are “Sponsors” of the yearbook and if we open up school portraits to showing any kind of logo that can be construed as an endorsement for a product, policy or belief structure than students will start to be targeted as potential billboards (which is what we talked about initially with the case of Instagram posts by celebrities).

Now whenever there is a controversy like this it comes down to freedom of expression and the lines are very fuzzy with many lawsuits popping up….and the underlying focus is whether the article of clothing or accessory is being worn to push or promote a certain agenda or is it simply coincidental. In other words, if it was not picture day, would the clothing still be worn. 

Therefore while an article of clothing promoting a religion would not be ok, a yarmulke; a hijab; or a cross necklace would be. Ultimately who gets to decide on where that line is… are the advertisers

So where was the breakdown in this communication. It seems the school contracts with a photography firm first (such as Lifetouch) which is a national photography company that specializes in school portraits. Once they get the proofs, the school than work with a yearbook company (such as Jostens or Lifetouch as well) to assemble the school portraits and other photography into a yearbook.

It is too soon to know where this story will end. As of right now, the yearbook advisor Susan Parsons has been indefinitely suspended and rightfully so, but not for the reasons the Berardo family intend. 

The mistake was not in photo-shopping the name out but for allowing the photo with the shirt to be taken in the first place.