Lennart Nilsson is a Swedish scientist and photographer who was born on 24th August 1922 in Strängnäs. At the age of twelve, he was given a camera by his father. Three years later, he watched a Louis Pasteur documentary and after this, Nilsson became fond of microscopy. In a few years, he got microscope and began making insects’ micrographs. His late teenage years and early twenties were spent taking environmental portraits using an Icoflex Zesis camera.
In 1940s, he started off his career with freelance photography. He frequently worked for Stockholm’s Åhlen & Åkerlund. One of his initial assignments was to cover Norway’s liberation during the second world war. His early notable photographic essay provided him attention from around the world after being published in Illustrated, Life, Picture Post and in other places. Those essays were, Fishermen at the Congo river, 1948; Polar Bear Hunting in Spitzbergen, 1947; A Midwife in Lapland, 1945.
In 1954, in Sweden in Profile (book), 87 portraits by Nilsson of popular Swedes were published. A year later, Reportage was another book that showcased some of his work. Another one of his photo essays on Salvation of Army of Sweden appeared in many magazines in 1963 and in a book by him, titled Hallelujah.
By mid 50s, he started experimenting with fresh photography techniques in order to make intense close-up shots. This along with lean endoscopes in the 60s, facilitated him to produce innovative photos of blood vessels of human and body cavities. In 1965, he attained international recognition when his photos were featured on 16 pages as well as the on the cover of Life magazine. These images were also shown in The Sunday Times, Paris Match, Stern, and in other publications as well. The pictures were also included in A Child is Born, a photo-book.
In 1969, Lennart Nilsson started to use a scanning electron microscope to illustrate the functions of the body. He is commonly credited for photographing the first pictures of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and later in 2003 he shot the first photo of SARS virus.
Apart from photography, Nilsson has also participated in the creation of The Saga of Life and The Miracle of Life.
In terms of awards and recognition, Lennart Nilsson is not behind. He became Swedish Society of Medicine’s member in 1969. In 1976, he was given a medicine honorary doctorate by Karolinska Institute. Germany’s Technische Universität Braunschweig presented him with an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy in 2002. A year later, he received another Honorary Doctor of Philosophy from Sweden’s Linköping University. Nilsson won the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography in 1980. He was also given the Swedish Academy Nordic Author’s award. In 1989, he won a gold medal from the RoyalSwedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. In 1982 and 1996, he was given the Emmy awards for his documentaries.
Work made by Nilsson has been exhibited in several locations, such as Stockholm’s Modern Museum, Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, and London’s British Museum.
All in all, Nilsson is considered as a major medical photographer. He not only uses advanced technologies in his work but also does thorough research before photographically documenting and recording the interiors of a human and body’s cells. Throughout his professional life, he has dedicated his attention to photographing the creation of humans, from outset to birth.