Susan Middleton on Photography, Conservation, and the Natural World


TASIS The American School in Switzerland was honored to host Susan Middleton—an artist, photographer, author, and educator specializing in the portraiture of rare and endangered animals, plants, sites, and cultures—as the fourth and final visitor for this year’s Senior Humanities Program. Ms. Middleton delivered an address to the senior class in the Palmer Center on the March 19, before spending time with all seven TASIS photography classes and two science classes over the course of the next couple of days.

Ms. Middleton shared some of her current projects and examined student work in each photography class offered in the High School, from Photography 1 to IB Visual Arts—including speaking with AP Photography students about selecting and editing images within a larger body of work and providing guidance to Photography 1 students who are currently working on their own personal projects.

“It’s always a pleasure to have a working photographer visit and give students an idea not only about the actual profession and how you can make a living at it but also about how you can incorporate your own artistic vision into everything you do,” said Frank Long, one of TASIS's photography teachers, who has known Ms. Middleton for 20 years and helped orchestrate her visit to campus.

In IB Environmental Systems classes, Ms. Middleton presented more of her photographs of endangered plants and animals, spoke with students about biodiversity and the preservation of environments and ecosystems, explained how her photographs and books underpin her life's work of advocating for preservation and conservation of the environment and world culture, and shared her experiences of working in collaboration with scientists, researchers, and noted photographers on a variety of projects and initiatives.

Ms. Middleton has found time for a variety of teaching experiences throughout her career as a professional photographer, and she enjoys the change of pace that comes from being in the classroom. “I love working with students,” she said. “For me, it’s really regenerative because I learn as much as I give—especially when I get to interact with individual students and hear what’s on their minds and see how they’re responding to what I’m showing them. It’s interesting for me.”

More about Ms. Middleton:
A resident of San Francisco, Ms. Middleton served as Chair of the Department of Photography from 1982–1995 at the California Academy of Sciences, where she is now a research associate. Her most recent book is Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life (Abrams, 2014), which she discussed at length in her presentation to the senior class, and her previous books include Evidence of Evolution (Abrams 2009), Archipelago and Remains of a Rainbow (National Geographic), and Witness and Here Today(Chronicle Books). She has also produced numerous films and exhibitions in conjunction with her book projects, including serving as associate producer for the Emmy Award-winning National Geographic film America’s Endangered Species: Don’t Say Goodbye (NBC & PBS, 1998) and producing a short film for the web called "Hermit Crabs!".

Ms. Middleton was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009, and she is also the recipient of an Endangered Species Coalition Champion Award for Education and Outreach and a Bay & Paul Foundation Biodiversity Leadership Award. Her photographs have been exhibited and published throughout the world—both in fine art and natural history contexts—and her work is represented in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art and the National Academy of Sciences.

Photographers Visit Outdoor Exhibition

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Six TASIS IB students visited the outdoor photography exhibition Corona Immagini in the village of Carona near Lugano. The exhibition features the super Macro photography of Ettore Silini alongside the more ethnographic images of Alessandra Meniconzi from Mongolia and Siberia.The images are displayed on alluminum panels affixed to the walls of the buildings in Carona's historic center

TASIS IB Visual Arts students look at the practice of artists and curators in mounting exhibitons, from choosing artworks and arrangement within an exhibition space to assembling a group of artworks that communicate a larger idea to a particular audience.

"It was fun to follow the trail of pictures down the narrow walk street of the village," said Maria Vitoria Mourao Clemente '19. "I found myself looking at the textures of the buildings as well as the photos."

 "I found it interesting to consider the connection between the images of insects and the images of the Kazakh Eagle Hunters with this Swiss town," said Bryan Soh '18. "The photographs don't seem to fit exactly, but they are great nonetheless."

"I found it interesting to consider the connection between the images of insects and the images of the Kazakh Eagle Hunters with this Swiss town," said Bryan Soh '18. "The photographs don't seem to fit exactly, but they are great nonetheless."


The exhibition also features the work of several photography students at the local art college, CSIA. The students especially enjoyed Romina Berri's images of the soles of shoes and the terrain they were designed to walk on, and the photographs of Viola Robbiani which show closeups of hands that resemble other body parts and other geography.

"I really enjoyed the pictures of the hands," said Mouna Loueke '19, "and I like the idea of seeing them right on the street of the town. I wanted to stay there and try to figure out how they were shot."

TASIS IB Visual Arts students will be visiting a number of exhibitions at museums and galleries this year, and many of the Year 2 students will spend two days at the Venice Biennale on Academic Travel.

Martyn Dukes Shows at Rhy Art Fair Basel


Mr. Martyn Dukes, Chair of the Fine Arts Department, plunged back into the world of professional Fine Art exhibitions at the beginning of the summer after a number of years absence. His summary of the experience:

Oddly enough, my IB teaching was partly responsible for getting me back into exhibiting: A change of syllabus saw young artists having to write a rationale for their final show, and in effect curating their own shows. As their teacher, this got me thinking about how I used to do the very same thing, as a painter, and little by little, this rekindled my desire to exhibit.

The international art fair in Basel in June was an exciting and hectic week and attracted galleries, artists, and buyers from all over the world. Rhy Art Fair Basel, one of a number of fringe events, was the setting for my showing of paintings from a long running series called Icons. These reflect a fascination with the world of the consumer and explore the enduring and idolized symbols that have grown out of it.

This was a tiring and sometimes stressful return to what is also sometimes a capricious and volatile business. In addition, as one of the warmest Junes on record, there was no air conditioning in the exhibition halls and temperatures were close to 40 °C. There were other changes too, with social media having become the indispensable tool for promoting the artist and their artworks; my clients would more likely buy my work if they felt connected to me in others ways—for example, if they knew which coffee brand I drink...There was, however, good company, with fellow artists from all over the globe spending many hours sitting around in our respective areas, willing the visitors to turn into interested, potential, and then real buyers. There were plenty of jokes and shared commiseration when they didn't.

Was it worth it? Well, yes, it was a great experience. And I’m going to do it again.

Mr. Dukes’ artworks in this show (Icons) can be seen catalogued with other works at

IB Visual Arts Exhibition a Great Success

The IB Visual Arts final exhibition was on display for the weekend of March 17–20 in the Palestrina. The exhibition serves as the internal assessment for the course. Students must choose the artworks from the body of work they produced during the two-year course and curate the exhibition.

This year 11 TASIS seniors mounted exhibitions featuring work made with different media, from video and animation, drawing and painting, cut out and construction to cyanotype prints and site-specific installation. The artists used their exhibitions to express ideas and feelings on a range of social and personal issues.

The gallery below contains images from the show. Click on any image and you will be taken to a slideshow. 

IB Visual Arts Final Exhibition

Everyone is welcome to the IB Visual Arts Final Exhibition this coming Friday in the Palestrina. The exhibition opens at 16:00 with light refreshments. Come and meet the grade 12 artists, celebrate their achievements and see what they have been up to in the art and photography studios. This year the group has been particularly creative and there should be something to appeal to most tastes. You may well have already noticed student artwork appearing around the campus - an umbrella tree, a very large rubric's cube, a sock mobile.... so, come and discover more in the Palestrina. The exhibition is open over the weekend, with the exception of Saturday morning when the artwork is assessed and marked.

The Great Magazine Cover Assignment

TASIS Photography 1 students are assigned a project to make a magazine cover using their own images and copy, but are allowed to emulate well-known publications. There is creative license with regard to how closely the cover copies a specific publication. The objective is to learn how to combine text and photographs, to work with many different layers, and to use layer styles to create the look and feel of a real magazine. The results are quite impressive! Here is a gallery of six created covers by current Photography 1 students.