Susan Middleton (born 1948) is an American photographer and author based in San Francisco. She is most known for her photographs of rare and endangered animals, plants, and sites. She was Chair of the Department of Photography at the California Academy of Sciences from 1982 to 1995, where she currently serves as Research Associate.
Middleton has authored several books. Her latest book, Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life, was published in 2014 to critical acclaim.
Middleton was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. She went to Shorecrest High School and later attended Santa Clara University from which she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in sociology with an emphasis in art.
After completing her bachelor’s degree, Middleton moved to San Francisco where she served as Chair of the Department of Photography at the California Academy of Sciences from 1982 to 1995. In the early 1980s, the style of her plant and animal portraits changed when she photographed a federally endangered Fringed-Toed Sand Lizard on a piece of black velvet instead of in a composed natural environment. The technique led to an exhibition and her first book, Here Today: Portraits of Our Vanishing Species. She has used the same photographic technique for most of her photographs.
In 1985, Middleton worked with Richard Avedon in his New York studio where she coordinated print production for his exhibit, In The American West. Her field portraiture of plant and animal species has been likened stylistically to the work of Avedon. In New York, Middleton worked with photographer David Liittschwager with whom she subsequently collaborated on several projects.
In 1994, she travelled to West Africa as a consultant to the Getty Conservation Institute. In the region’s tribal capital of Abomey, Benin, she documented the conservation project for the Royal Palace, during which time she also trained local partners culminating in a book and film produced by the Getty. Middleton later continued research in West Africa on the tradition of Vodoun.
In photographing the endangered flora and fauna of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Middleton’s work contributed in 2006 to a presidential declaration of the region as a Marine National Monument. She produced the thirty-minute documentary film Archipelago: Portraits of Life in the World’s Most Remote Island Sanctuary, which focused on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. In February 2007 she gave a presentation at the White House for First Lady Laura Bush, in preparation for her official visit to Midway Atoll, highlighting the designation of the NWHI as a Marine National Monument. She was also invited to accompany Mrs. Bush on her visit to Midway.
Her work is in the permanent collections of many museums and institutions including Center for Creative Photography, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, The Nature Conservancy, the National Academy of Sciences, Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the National Gallery of Art.
Middleton was an associate producer of America’s Endangered Species: Don’t Say Goodbye, an Emmy-Award-winning documentary made for National Geographic. Middleton’s work has been exhibited in museums worldwide and has been widely published including: National Geographic, New York Times, Audubon, Smithsonian, Discover, Natural History, & Orion.