Yearbook photo takes teen to the ‘Today Show’

Racy portrait garners Sydney Spies a segment on long-running morning show

After searching for Sydney Spies’ name on the Internet on Monday at the Steaming Bean Coffee Co., Kristy Alderton, 23, left; Nate Blancy, 22, second from left; Amy Brothers, 25, third from left; and Nicole Brothers, 19, are surprised at how many sites were following the dispute about Spies’ senior yearbook photo. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

After searching for Sydney Spies’ name on the Internet on Monday at the Steaming Bean Coffee Co., Kristy Alderton, 23, left; Nate Blancy, 22, second from left; Amy Brothers, 25, third from left; and Nicole Brothers, 19, are surprised at how many sites were following the dispute about Spies’ senior yearbook photo.

It’s not just in Durango coffee shops that Sydney Spies and her provocative yearbook photo are being discussed. Television viewers across the country are up on the controversy since Spies and her mother appeared Monday in a 6˝-minute spot on the “Today Show.”

News of the dispute – which started when the photo Spies, an 18-year-old Durango High School student and aspiring model, submitted for her senior portrait was rejected – first appeared in The Durango Herald last week. As of Monday evening, stories about it on the Herald’s website had garnered more than 1 million page views.

In the photo, Spies is wearing a sheer yellow skirt and a black scarf that exposes her shoulders and midriff.

“This photo represents who I am. I want to be a model. I’m a dancer, and I feel like administration isn’t allowing me to show that,” Spies said in an interview last week.

A second photo Spies submitted for the yearbook, in a sheer black dress, also was denied by student editors, who worried the racy photos were unprofessional.

During a sit-down interview with “Today Show” anchor Matt Lauer, Spies, seated with her mother, Miki Spies, accused the editors of changing their position under pressure from the administration.

Administrators and the yearbook adviser have denied influencing the students’ decision.

During the segment about Spies, which appeared as the NBC morning show celebrated its 60th anniversary, the student editors, in a recorded interview at DHS, said the photo wasn’t in keeping with the quality of the publication.

Spies told Lauer she is still holding out hope the yearbook staff will reverse its decision and let her use the picture, which she called “artistic.”

Miki Spies told Lauer she initially had reservations about submitting the photo.

“I asked her not to do it,” she said. “I said, ‘Sydney, really, is this the one you want?’”

But she said she came to accept the decision.

“When your child is spreading her wings, you just want to come alongside and support them. That’s what I’m doing as a mother,” she told Lauer.

Sydney Spies said she has been told the photo can still appear, but as a paid “senior advertisement,” which appear at the end of the yearbook.

The Spieses could not be reached Monday afternoon, and DHS administration did not return calls seeking comment.

A poll on the “Today Show” website asked viewers if they thought the photo was “too inappropriate” to go in the a yearbook. Seventy-seven percent, or 134,318 votes, indicted “yes” as of Monday evening.

Back in Durango, the appearance stirred much talk.

“It’s a sticky situation,” Spies’ boyfriend, Shane Gibson, 20, said. “This has turned into a lot more than any of us have expected.”

He added, “I personally believe it’s not too provocative to make it in the yearbook. It’s just like anyone else who is pictured with a football or a guitar – she’s an aspiring model.”

Benjamin Martinez, associate photographer and general manager of Thru the Lens Fine Portraits, photographed Spies’ now-famous photo and said the shoot included both traditional senior portraits and modeling portfolio pictures.

“We took some regular photos during the shoot that she could have chosen for the yearbook just as well as any of the images (that) they purchased from the session,” Martinez said.

The Spieses’ purchased the copyright release to the images from the photo shoot, leaving Thru the Lens unable to dictate what a customer does with the photos.

“If I knew at the time that she was planning on using that particular photo, I probably would have voiced my opinion that another one might have been better,” Martinez said.

As fate would have it, Elizabeth Samuell, owner of Thru the Lens Fine Portraits, is the mother of Erin Edblom, a student editor of the yearbook staff who voted against including Spies’ submitted photos, Martinez confirmed.

DHS Principal Diane Lashinsky has denied any involvement in removing the photo from the yearbook.

“I was aware of the (student) editors’ final decision not to print the picture, and I support their decision,” Lashinsky said.

“I think it’s really important that the process that the editorial staff went through to make the decision ... isn’t at all connected with any individual person,” Lashinsky added.

Around town, opinions about the photo and coverage varied widely:

“When I was in high school, the idea of the senior picture was to look nice and to appear to be an adult,” Erik Maxson, 41, said. “The senior photo was so your family could be proud of you, not necessarily to show off your physical prowess.”

“There’s bigger fish to fry than some girl’s yearbook photo,” Durango resident Tony Blankenship, 38, said.

“It’s international now. It’s so ridiculous, I can’t even believe it. Good for her for standing her ground, but I think she could have been more mature and just let it go,” Dawni Canaday, 21, said.

“I think it is absolutely ridiculous. We have more important issues that need to be resolved or discussed as opposed to a picture in a yearbook,” Nikki Greenberg, 21, said.

This is not the first time the Spies’ choices have faced public scrutiny.

On Nov. 21, 2011, a story by Herald columnist John Peel profiled Miki Spies and her decision to come out as a lesbian after 24 years of marriage.

“I had this really great husband. Beautiful children. But obviously something was missing for me,” Spies said.

Spies’ ex-husband, J.R. Spies, Sydney’s father and the owner of Pongas bar, could not be reached for comment Monday.

pblank@durangoherald.com

This screen capture from The Durango Herald website shows Spies being interviewed Monday on NBC’s “Today Show.” Enlarge photo

Durango Herald website

This screen capture from The Durango Herald website shows Spies being interviewed Monday on NBC’s “Today Show.”

Miki Spies, mother of Durango High School senior Sydney Spies, provided this photo of Sydney Spies taken by Thru the Lens Photography. The photo was rejected by student editors of the Durango High School yearbook for use as Sydney Spies’ senior portrait. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Miki Spies

Miki Spies, mother of Durango High School senior Sydney Spies, provided this photo of Sydney Spies taken by Thru the Lens Photography. The photo was rejected by student editors of the Durango High School yearbook for use as Sydney Spies’ senior portrait.

Thru the Lens photographer Benjamin Martinez, talks Monday in the store about his photo shoot with Sydney Spies. Martinez says if he had been asked, he would have recommended the Durango High School senior use a different photo for her senior portrait. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Thru the Lens photographer Benjamin Martinez, talks Monday in the store about his photo shoot with Sydney Spies. Martinez says if he had been asked, he would have recommended the Durango High School senior use a different photo for her senior portrait.

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