Susan Middleton on Photography, Conservation, and the Natural World

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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.