Images of life and death: The Lennart Nilsson industry, ca 1940–2010

Project leader: Solveig Jülich

More than perhaps any other in his field, Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson (b. 1922) has shaped our perception of the interior of the human body. For over half a century he has created images of previously invisible or inaccessible phenomena ranging from embryonic development, inner organs, and blood vessels to bacteria and viruses. This subproject draws on recent research in history of medicine and cultural history of media to explore the practical, technical and commercial aspects of Nilsson’s imaging activities but also aims to highlight the uses of the images and their circulation in a wider context. In other words, this study deals with “the Lennart Nilsson industry”; the heterogeneous networks and conflicting meanings of the medical actors, media producers, governmental agencies, social movements, media audiences and others that were involved in the processes of making Nilsson’s images into powerful icons of life and death.

Publications and presentations:

• "Drama of the fetoplacental unit: Reimagining the public fetus of Lennart Nilsson”, paper presentation, The Coming of Age of the Public Fetus: Exploring Pregnant and Fetal Bodies in Visual Culture, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, May 15–17, 2019.

• ”Drama of life before birth", in Nick Hopwood, Rebecca Fleming & Lauren Kassell (eds), Reproduction: From Antiquity to the present day, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

• ”Museers återbegravningar av foster hotar ett unikt kulturarv”, Dagens Nyheter 1/8 2018.

• “Photographing life before birth: Lennart Nilsson and the rise of fetal research in post-war Sweden", paper presentation, American Association for the History of Medicine, Los Angeles, May 10–13, 2018.

• “Picturing abortion opposition: Lennart Nilsson’s early photographs of embryos and fetuses”, Social History of Medicine, vol. 31, No. 2, 2018, 278–307. Abstract

• “Lennart Nilsson’s A Child Is Born: The many lives of a pregnancy advice book”, Culture Unbound, vol. 7, 2015, 627–648. Full text.

• “The making of a best-selling book on reproduction: Lennart Nilsson’s A Child Is Born”, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol. 89, No. 3, 2015, 491–525. Full text.

• “Lennart Nilsson’s fish-eyes: A photographic and cultural history of views from below”, Konsthistorisk tidskrift/Journal of Art History, vol. 84, No. 2, 2015, 75–92. Full text.

• “Fosterbildernas skilda levnadsbanor”, Svenska Dagbladet 19/7 2015.