Spineless: Susan Middleton’s Potraits of Marine Invertebrates Like You’ve Never Seen Before

by Carolyn Sotka



Image courtesy of Abrams Books

Acclaimed photographer Susan Middleton’s gorgeous new coffee table book, “Spineless” showcases portraits of just about every marine invertebrate (animals without backbones) you could think of. Middleton’s opening paragraph sets the stage with two quotes from giants of the fashion world – as analogous to the natural world.

 “What we imagine may be very beautiful but nothing replaces reality.” – Yves Saint Laurent

 “There is no better designer than nature.” – Alexander McQueen

 In Spineless, Middleton explores the mysterious and surprising world of marine invertebrates, which represent more than 98 percent of the known animal species in the ocean. They are also astonishingly diverse in their shapes, patterns, textures, and colors—in nature’s fashion show, they are the haute couture of marine life.




 Image courtesy of Abrams Books

This collection of more than 250 remarkable images is the result of seven years of painstaking fieldwork across the Pacific Ocean, using photographic techniques that Middleton developed to capture these extremely fragile creatures on camera.

Two of the images actually exposed new species and have been formally named and described based on the photographs, the Kanaloa squat lobster and the Wanawana crab.

The book, meant to be both inspirational and educational, is a stunning new view of nature that harmoniously combines art and science.

clam and nudi



Images courtesy of Abrams Books

My photographs are not about conveying information,” writes Middleton, “
they are not intended to serve as scientific evidence (though sometimes they do). They are meant to be felt. They are about seeing and imagination. I hope these photographs serve to bring people closer to these precious lives and to provide a unique opportunity to relate to these creatures in a personal way.”

‘We are vastly outnumbered by the invertebrates. We depend on them for the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we need to grow our food; as the great Dr. E.O. Wilson puts it, “the little things that run the world“.’



Image courtesy of Abrams Books

Susan Middleton is an acclaimed photographer, author, and lecturer specializing in the portraiture of rare and endangered animals, plants, sites, and cultures. For thirteen years she was the chair of the Department of Photography at the California Academy of Sciences, where she now serves as research associate. Her most recent book is Evidence of Evolution (Abrams 2009). Previous books in collaboration with David Liittschwager include Archipelago, Remains of a Rainbow (National Geographic), Witness, and Here Today (Chronicle Books). 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. She was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009. She lives in San Francisco.

Pick up a copy of Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life — CS

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