Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life by Susan Middleton

Lion's Mane Jelly copyright Susan Middleton

Lion’s Mane Jelly
copyright Susan Middleton

Red-eye Medusa copyright Susan Middleton

 May 23 – August 21

See huge spellbinding images of octopuses and jellyfish in the San Juan Islands Museum of Art summer exhibition by acclaimed San Francisco wildlife photographer Susan Middleton. In astoundingly detailed photographs from her book Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life, published in 2014 by Abrams and Chronicle Books, Middleton uncovers the mysterious and surprising world of marine invertebrates, which represent more than 98 percent of the known animal species in the ocean. 

Middleton’s spectacular work is the cumulative effort of years photographing and cataloging these odd creatures under the sea. Summers spent working in Friday Harbor with the University of Washington Marine Labs inspired some of her most splendid work. 

The acclaimed photographer, author, and lecturer 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.

“Colorful, quirky, quivery, spindly, spiky, sticky, stretchy, squishy, slithery, squirmy, prickly, bumpy, bubbly, and fluttery, the invertebrates appear almost surreal, even alien,” she says.

“By removing visual distractions, I allow the viewer to concentrate on the subject with a vivid clarity that is difficult and often impossible to see in nature.” 

 Spineless10070JF.jpg (JPEG Image, 3119 × 3680 pixels)

About the book, some comments:

“Ravishing. . . .rekindles a certain sense of wonder from childhood.”—The New York Times

“Each image is rendered in exquisite detail…As pure art it is a celebration for the eyes. As a tribute to nature’s inventiveness, it is an inspiration for the soul.”—Natural History Magazine

“Extraordinary photographs.”—New York Review of Books.com

“Gorgeous portraits of spineless sea creatures.”—Smithsonian.com

“Exquisitely convey[s] a dynamic world largely unknown to the human eye.”—American Photo 

“Striking portraits bring the bizarre beauty of marine invertebrates to life. . . .gorgeous.”—Wired.com

“The marine invertebrates in [Susan Middleton’s] photographs are such beautiful, ethereal, otherworldly creatures, they almost appear to float atop the pages.”—Entertainment Weekly

Marine invertebrates make up more than ninety-eight percent of the known animal species in the ocean, yet they remain elusive to most of us. This fall, Abrams presents a photography book that offers a rare glimpse into their mysterious world. Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, The Backbone of Life (November 2014, $50.00 hardcover) by pioneering nature photographer Susan Middleton blends science and art to reveal the hidden beauty and remarkable biodiversity of sea creatures without backbones. 

The result of seven years of fieldwork across the Pacific Ocean, and showcasing the photographic techniques Middleton has developed over the past three decades, this volume presents more than 250 portraits of rarely or never-before-seen ocean dwellers. Middleton visually isolates each creature she photographs to best capture its individual character and to spotlight the dazzling natural blueprints inherent in the marine invertebrate realm of life. An endless array of remarkable diversity in life designs parades across the pages of Spineless: resplendent sea cucumbers, ethereal jellies, otherworldly nudibranchs, and a host of other fascinating creatures. From the stubby squid to the frilled anemone to the white phantom crab, these images open our eyes to both the fragility and the resiliency of these species. 

As timely as it is visually stunning, this book chronicles a population particularly vulnerable to climate change. Susan Middleton’s engaging essays provide scientific context for her photographs, exploring the pivotal niche occupied by marine invertebrates in the tree of life, and their habits and habitats. Marine biologist Dr. Bernadette V. Holthuis has contributed descriptive profiles of each species. Dr. Sylvia Earle presents a powerful argument for conservation in her foreword, emphasizing the critical importance of marine invertebrates to the health of our oceans and to ourselves.

A unique and harmonious merging of art and science, Spineless will appeal to nature lovers, photography enthusiasts, design aficionados, and artists alike.


Spineless, Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life has had a spectacular reception worldwide, with ripples of excitement evident in reviews by Smithsonian MagazineThe New York Times Review of BooksWIREDEntertainment Weekly, and The Wall Street Journal.


stubby squid
Stubby Squid
copyright Susan Middleton

Opalescent Nudibranch
copyright Susan Middleton

image001Black-eyed Squid
copyright Susan Middleton





IMA thanks the sponsors of this exhibit: