Susan Middleton

Susan Middleton has been dedicated to the documentation and portraiture of rare and endangered animals, plants, sites, and cultures for the past 30 years, inspired by the earth’s biological and cultural diversity and motivated by the need to protect it. She is a photographer, author, producer, curator, lecturer and educator. A graduate of the University of Santa Clara, she chaired the California Academy of Sciences department of photography from 1982 to 1995, where she currently serves as a research associate. She has worked extensively in Hawai’i and West Africa. In 1985 she worked for a year with photographer Richard Avedon in New York City.

Susan is an effective communicator on behalf of biodiversity preservation, combining art and science in a unique approach to reach a diverse audience and raise public awareness. This effort has resulted in numerous publications, exhibitions, public presentations and media coverage. In 1984 she conceived a photographic style of visually isolating an animal or plant against a neutral backdrop to create a portrait, not unlike a portrait of a person, where detail and individual character are revealed. These images have helped to give hundreds of endangered species a voice since they cannot speak for themselves. Edward O. Wilson states “The remarkable portraits have a wholly different impact: they speak to the heart. In the end their kind of testimony may count as much toward conserving life as all the data and generalizations of science”.

Ms. Middleton has initiated four large scale projects over the last twenty years focusing upon rare and endangered species and native ecosystems within the United States: the first concentrating on California, then a national representation including all fifty states, followed by Hawai’i – the endangered species capital of the world – and most recently the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where her presentations played a key role in the designation of the area as a National Monument, making it the largest protected marine area in the world.

Concerned by the decline of cultural diversity worldwide, Susan has conducted an ongoing project in West Africa researching and documenting the spiritual and philosophical tradition of Vodoun, in a culture which is remarkably intact, resilient and difficult to penetrate.

Susan’s most recent book is Evidence of Evolution (Abrams 2009) featuring photographs of specimens from natural history collections which illustrate aspects of evolution. Susan has co-authored, with David Liittschwager, four books: Archipelago: Portraits of Life in the World’s Most Remote Island Sanctuary (National Geographic Books, 2005), Remains of a Rainbow: Rare Plants and Animals of Hawai’i (National Geographic Books, 2001), Witness: Endangered Species of North America (Chronicle Books, 1994), and Here Today: Portraits of Our Vanishing Species (Chronicle Books, 1991). She curated traveling exhibitions in conjunction with each of these publications. Susan was a associate producer of “America’s Endangered Species: Don’t Say Goodbye,” an Emmy Award-winning National Geographic television special broadcast on NBC and PBS.

Middleton produced a 30 minute documentary film: “Archipelago: Portraits of Life in the World’s Most Remote Island Sanctuary” (2006) which focuses on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, one of the last healthy marine ecosystems left on earth. In February 2007 she gave a presentation at The White House for First Lady Laura Bush and her senior staff, in preparation for her official visit to Midway Atoll, highlighting the designation of the NWHI as a Marine National Monument. Susan was also invited to accompany Mrs. Bush on her visit to Midway.

In Fall 2008 Middleton was invited as a guest artist at Crown Point Press, an internationally recognized Fine Art etching press, to create six limited edition photogravures; four of which are in color. She is currently involved in a project focusing on portraits of living marine invertebrates for her next book Spineless: The Backbone of Life in the Sea. Her most recent project is a short film for the web titled Hermit Crabs!, which reveals the spectacular diversity of hermit crabs.

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Middleton lectures widely and writes about her work. Her photographs have been exhibited and published throughout the world, in fine art, natural history and scientific contexts. Susan continues to direct her work toward revealing the beauty and value of the earth’s natural and cultural diversity to increase public awareness and help influence public policy toward the preservation of natural and cultural resources.