de Saisset Museum

South Bay's free museum of art and history

Life Cycle

April 9 - June 12, 2011

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Award-winning photographer, former chair of the California Academy of Sciences Department of Photography, and Santa Clara University alumna Susan Middleton ('70) has spent nearly 30 years documenting rare and endangered species. Her images seamlessly blend art and science through compelling portraits of creatures that are seldom, if ever, seen by the public. Through this exhibition, which highlights two distinct bodies of work, the artist introduces us to a suite of alluring creatures that illustrate the remarkable, mind-boggling variety found in our natural world.

In Evidence of Evolution Middleton pictures extinct species from the collections of the California Academy of Sciences. The images, which are at once contemplative and reverential, celebrate the evolutionary development of plants and animals. Framed against a plain black or white background, the specimens featured in these photographs both illustrate and trace the process of adaptation. Completed in 2009, the series commemorates the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's monumental text on evolution, On the Origin of Species.

Middleton's more recent series, Spineless, focuses on marine invertebrates, showcasing the extreme diversity of deep sea life. Alternately colorful, quirky, spindly, spiky, and bubbly, the invertebrates appear almost surreal in their abstract forms. Like the specimens in Evidence of Evolution, the species shown here are pictured against neutral backgrounds in order to enhance and highlight their individual features. Through these highly-detailed images, we begin to see how marine creatures adapt and change to improve their survival at the bottom of the ocean.

Together the images in Life Cycle seem to suggest the need for conservation and preservation. Yet, perhaps more significantly, they inspire a sense of wonder and fascination with the amazing world in which we live.

Images, left to right: Susan Middleton, Fragile File Shell, Flame Scallop, Lima fragilis, 2006, photographed in the French Frigate Shoals, Hawaii, courtesy of the artist. Susan Middleton, Pacific Giant Octopus (juvenile), Enteroctopus dofleini, 2010, photographed at Friday Harbor Marine Lab, University of Washington, San Juan Island, WA, courtesy of the artist.



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Related Programs

Art, Science, and Biodiversity
An artist talk with Susan Middleton

Thursday, May 12, 7 p.m.
Museum auditorium

Video: Hermit Crabs

Get a glimpse of Susan Middleton at work and a taste of some of the creatures in the show through this video on hermit crabs.


Q & A with Susan Middleton

Susan talks about her work, her influences, and her inspirations in an extensive interview with Steven Boyd of Santa Clara Magazine.

Santa Clara Magazine

Check out an amazing photo essay with images by Susan Middleton and text by Steven Boyd Saum in the latest issue of Santa Clara Magazine.