Life is a fascinating book by Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson which, simply, documents the miracle of life.
Although Nilsson has a background in photojournalism and has won many awards for his photo-essays, he is best known for his scientific imagery.
In 1965 his work on prenatal life was published in Life magazine which used on its cover Nilsson’s most famous picture; a living embryo. The magazine sold eight million copies in the space of a few days. This was a real landmark for Life magazine and this cover has since remained an icon in science photography as well as photo-documentary.
Life tells us the ultimate story, documenting the evolution of our body, from embryo to newborn, to growth organs and tissues development. Nilsson’s imagery is spectacular, his challenging technique uses a powerful scanning electron microscope which allows him to photograph in the most detailed way the inside of our complex body. The embryo and foetus development is the strongest and most moving part of the book with its revelation of foetus faces, facial hair, and eyes. I found it is simply beautiful.
The next section documents the intricate interior of our body as well as all development from heart to senses, and the viruses that can threaten it: from HIV, to cancer, SARS, and herpes.
Life also includes a few of Nilsson’s thermal photographs, such as a couple mating and kissing. Such an image serves as the cover of the book; a couple holding hands.
The book is very well designed, printed on a black paper, it emphasises the colours (note: the colours are translated from the original grey scale into full colour). As well as this exceptional imagery, there is an essay by distinguished scientist Hans Wigzell and a portrait of Nilsson by Irving Penn.
Lennart Nilsson’s mission seems to make the invisible visible. He unfolds the miracle of life exquisitely.