There are many photographers who make me pause to take a few minutes to revel in their work, their mastery of light, and their unbelievable grasp of composition.
And then there are photographers whose work I simply gawk at, mouth open, eyebrows furrowed in confusion and question, head completely devoid of thought, except filled with awe at how they could capture the seemingly impossible.
Lennart Nilsson falls into the second category for me.
And it’s no wonder one of his photos made TIME Magazine’s 75 Best LIFE Photos; the only Swede on the list. His photo above was shot in 1965 (yes, 1965!) and captures a 17-week living embryo inside its mother’s womb.
According to TIME:
“This is the first portrait ever made of a living embryo inside its mother’s womb.”
So began the text that accompanied Lennart Nilsson’s 16 groundbreaking photographs in the April 30, 1965, issue of LIFE. The story — called “The Drama of Life Before Birth” — was an unprecedented photographic feat that showed the stages in the growth of the human embryo.
Simply put, it changed the way we look at how humans develop.
Born in 1922 in Strängnäs, Nilsson started his photographic career as a photojournalist for various Swedish and international publications. It wasn’t until 1965 when he photographed the cover story for LIFE documenting life before birth that he was instantly catapulted to a larger world stage. He used a variety of macro-lenses and instruments with special wide-angled lenses to document how a human fetus developed within the womb; a project which became his masterpiece known as “A Child is Born“.
Arguably one of the world’s greatest scientific photographers, Lennart Nilsson’s work has been nothing short of groundbreaking and has revolutionized the way we look at the process of pregnancy. As my husband and I flipped through photo after photo of A Child is Born, words escaped us. We just studied each photo in silence.