Susan Middleton: Spineless
May 23 – August 21, 2015

Reception: June 19, 5:00–8:00 p.m.
Art as a Voice: June 30, 7:30 p.m. at the San Juan Community Theater

“Spineless” features fifty spellbinding photographs of marine invertebrates from the waters around the San Juan Islands by acclaimed San Francisco-based photographer Susan Middleton. These astoundingly detailed photographs provide us a window to the mysterious and surprising world of marine invertebrates, which represent more than 98 percent of the known animal species in the ocean. This body of work is the cumulative effort of seven years photographing and cataloging marine invertebrates while working as a Whitely Fellow at the University of Washington Marine Labs. The traveling exhibition celebrates her recent book Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life, published in 2014 by Abrams and Chronicle Books.

Susan Middleton is an acclaimed photographer, author, and lecturer who specializes in portraiture of rare and endangered animals, plants, sites, and cultures. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009, for many years she was the Chair of the Department of Photography at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, where she currently serves as research associate. Her photographs have been exhibited worldwide in fine art and natural history contexts and are represented in the permanent collections of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Gallery of Art and is the the author of Evidence of Evolution (Abrams) and co-author of several other books.

Here are two images from the exhibition:


Sea Angel
Clione limacina

Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories, University of Washington
San Juan Island, Washington

Archival Pigment Print

The wing-like extensions of this sea slug’s foot allow it to “fly” angelically, but this angel has a dark side: It preys voraciously (and exclusively) on a species of swimming snail, Limacina helina. In fact, the species name limacina refers to its prey animal. The sea angel’s mouth sits between the two short tentacles on its head. When the predator comes into contact with a swimming snail, it everts a set of six long appendages from the mouth, capturing the snail in their grip. Holding the shell tightly, it extracts the body and swallows it whole. Tiny, young sea angels rely on larval swimming snails for food, while adult angels consume adult prey.


Black-Eyed Squid
Gonatus onyx

Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories, University of Washington
San Juan Island, Washington

Archival Pigment Print

Squids generally have a hands-off style of parenting: Mothers lay their fertilized eggs on the ocean floor or in floating masses and leave them to develop unattended. In 2000, biologists reported the first known case of a species with parental care: black-eyed squid females holding large, gelatinous masses of embryos in their arms. Adults of the species are normally found at 500 to 800 meters (1,600 to 2,600 feet) depth, but the brooding mothers were observed much deeper, at 1,500 to 2,500 meters (4,900 to 8,200 feet). Evidence suggests that a female carries the mass for up to nine months (during which time she can’t feed), moving inshore as hatching time approaches. Young members of the deepwater species, like this one collected right off a dock, are found in surface waters.