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This article examines the circulations and transformations of photographer Lennart Nilsson's pregnancy advice book Ett barn blir till (A Child Is Born) through its five Swedish editions from 1965 to 2009 as well as some of the translations in English and other languages. Published by Bonnier, the leading media company in Sweden, the book combines images and texts to dramatise the story of conception, foetal development and pregnancy. In particular, the aim is to explore how various commercial, cultural and material processes have co-produced and changed the identity of A Child Is Born. Inspired by research on the biography of things, the article traces the life-course of the book and the photographic material it includes. Two principles of transformation are emphasised. In the first process, the book, although undergoing significant changes, preserved a material and discursive unity and moved in relatively fixed domains. This movement occurred in relation to an origin that can be understood in terms of creativity, authorship and copyright. The second process did not require the integrity of a creative work. Rather, it was the intense features of the book and its images, their affective and iconic power, which enabled the circulations and appropriations. It is argued that Nilsson's book could be described as a thoroughfare for images and texts in constant motion, instead of a fixed and stable object. Entangled in a culture of circulation, it has taken on a dynamic of its own and has moved as much through accident as through design. In these changes, the book has become self-reflexive in its adjustments over a range of arenas and milieus. The life of (the images in) A Child Is Born encompasses many lives, each ensnared in the trajectories and transformations of others.
Jülich, Solveig: “Lennart Nilsson’s A Child Is Born: The Many Lives of a Best-Selling Pregnancy
Advice Book”, Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015: 627-648. Published by Linköping University
Electronic Press:
Lennart Nilsson’s A Child Is Born: The Many Lives
of a Best-Selling Pregnancy Advice Book
By Solveig Jülich
This article examines the circulations and transformations of photographer Lennart
Nilsson’s pregnancy advice book Ett barn blir till (A Child Is Born) through its five
Swedish editions from 1965 to 2009 as well as some of the translations in English
and other languages. Published by Bonnier, the leading media company in Sweden,
the book combines images and texts to dramatise the story of conception, foetal
development and pregnancy. In particular, the aim is to explore how various com-
mercial, cultural and material processes have co-produced and changed the identity
of A Child Is Born. Inspired by research on the biography of things, the article traces
the life-course of the book and the photographic material it includes. Two principles
of transformation are emphasised. In the first process, the book, although undergo-
ing significant changes, preserved a material and discursive unity and moved in
relatively fixed domains. This movement occurred in relation to an origin that can
be understood in terms of creativity, authorship and copyright. The second process
did not require the integrity of a creative work. Rather, it was the intense features
of the book and its images, their affective and iconic power, which enabled the
circulations and appropriations. It is argued that Nilsson’s book could be described
as a thoroughfare for images and texts in constant motion, instead of a fixed and
stable object. Entangled in a culture of circulation, it has taken on a dynamic of its
own and has moved as much through accident as through design. In these changes,
the book has become self-reflexive in its adjustments over a range of arenas and
milieus. The life of (the images in) A Child Is Born encompasses many lives, each
ensnared in the trajectories and transformations of others.
Keywords: Lennart Nilsson 1922–, A Child Is Born, reproductive medicine, medi-
cal photography, pregnancy advice books, book and media history, 20th-century
history, Sweden
[628] Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015
In May 2010 Fotografiska, the new museum of photography in Stockholm, opened
with an exhibition displaying pictures of human embryos and foetuses by the Swe-
dish photographer Lennart Nilsson.
It was entitled Ett barn blir till (A Child Is
Born), as was his best-selling pregnancy advice book, first published in 1965 and
issued in its fifth edition in 2009. The introductory text, displayed at the entrance,
stated that the curator had taken ‘into consideration the visual culture of our time’,
noting that these enlarged photographs ‘direct the scientific text instead of illustrat-
ing it’. The exhibition sought to ‘free the images further from the narrative of the
book’. In this way, ‘released from the context, the photographs may be viewed as
individual images or in groups, in order to allow for new comparisons and associa-
tions’. Additionally, the large format of the prints accentuated their iconic power:
‘We will never fully grasp what sparks the creation of life; however Nilsson’s pho-
tographs have brought us a bit closer to the mystery’. The curator’s statement is
interesting both for its explicit aim to update the visual style of the book and for
exploiting the specific quality of the exhibition medium to increase the impact of
the images. However, this exhibition is but the most recent episode in the history of
A Child Is Born.
Born in 1922, Nilsson has no other formal education than elementary school.
During the 1940s he established himself as a freelance press photographer, working
on commission for Swedish and international picture magazines. In the early 1950s
he took a series of images of human embryonic and foetal specimens for an article
arguing against the existing law on abortion in Sweden (Jülich 2010, Jülich 2016a).
He continued to work on documenting human reproduction, and in 1965 he won
international fame with the publication of the photo essay ‘Drama of Life before
Birth’ in the American Life magazine, soon followed by the release of A Child Is
Born (Jülich 2015a). From about 1970 his laboratory with photographic and tech-
nical equipment has been housed at Karolinska Institutet, the Nobel Prize-awarding
medical university in Stockholm (Jülich 2014a). Since then Nilsson’s spectacular
pictures of the micro worlds of the human body and nature have been circulated
between various media and contexts (Jülich 2013, Jülich 2015b). In 2009 the Swe-
dish government awarded him the honorary title of professor for his ‘unique and
still ongoing lifework in the service of knowledge’ (Government Offices of Sweden
Feminist researchers and critics have credited Nilsson’s work with enormous
significance. Above all, they have focused on the ideological meanings of the foetal
images. The cultural pervasiveness of the Life-magazine pictures has led Barbara
Duden to deem them ‘part of the mental universe of our time’ (Duden 1993: 14).
Following her, several scholars have drawn attention to the photographer’s ten-
dency to depict the foetus as separate from the pregnant woman’s body and argued
that this has supported the pro-life movement in the USA and Britain from the 1980s
(Franklin 1991: 195196, Stabile 1992: 183190, Berlant 1997: 105111). More
Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015 [629]
recently, Nina Lykke and Mette Bryld have offered a nuanced understanding of
Nilsson’s work, emphasising that in Sweden the photographs were also used by
early-feminist sex educators such as Maj-Briht Bergström-Walan and Birgitta Lin-
nér, belonging to the pro-choice side (Lykke & Bryld 2003: 175211, Lykke &
Bryld 2004: 99101). They have also discussed two versions of a science documen-
tary film on human reproduction from the early 2000s that built on Nilsson’s im-
agery to demonstrate an awareness of feminist critiques in the USA that was lacking
in the Swedish original (Lykke & Bryld 2008).
However, these analyses do not fully account for the complexity of the longer
history of Nilsson’s pictures of embryos and foetuses. For one thing, it is no easy
matter to grasp his intentions and motivations. He himself has been reluctant to
profess his standpoint concerning abortion and he has made vague and different
statements during the years (Jülich 2010, Jülich 2016a). We cannot know for sure
that he personally was against abortion but, as I have shown in an earlier study, he
contributed pictures to anti-abortion campaigns led by prominent Swedish gynae-
cologists and doctors in the 1950s and early 1960s. Further, while it seems safe to
say that Nilsson, or rather his imagery, has played an important part in the reformed
sex education in Sweden, there is no evidence that this reflected an engagement for
feminism and pro-choice movements. Rather, these different connections and the
contradictions involved must be understood in their historical context, particularly
the economic conditions for making and sustaining a photographic career in a
changing media landscape and society.
This essay examines the circulations and transformations of A Child Is Born
through its five editions from 1965 to 2009 as well as some of the translations in
English and other languages.
Although reportedly the best-selling illustrated book
ever issued (Januszczak 2006), it has received less scholarly attention than ‘Drama
of Life before Birth’.
Published by Bonnier, the leading media company in Swe-
den, the book combines images and texts to dramatise the story of conception, foetal
development and pregnancy. The first edition included 16 of the embryonic and
foetal photographs that were featured in the 1965 Life magazine article as well as a
series of images depicting a woman as her pregnancy progresses. Subsequent edi-
tions contained new and other kinds of material. Also, the format has changed sev-
eral times. By highlighting this multilayered history of A Child Is Born I wish to
contribute to a growing historical research field that has begun to show that embryos
and foetuses were on display to larger audiences well before Duden’s ‘public foe-
tus’ emerged and the mixed media involved in the communication of human repro-
duction in a long term perspective (Buklijas & Hopwood 2008, Dubow 2011,
Hopwood 2015, Hopwood et al. 2015).
In particular, the aim of this article is to explore how various commercial, cul-
tural and material processes have co-produced and changed the identity of A Child
Is Born. Inspired by research on the biography of things, I will trace the life-course
of the volume and the photographic material included in it.
This will involve less
[630] Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015
engagement with the content of the book but I will view it as a material and affective
object that exists and operates within contexts that shift and change over time. One
advantage of this approach is that it does not favour any single point in an object’s
life: its production, distribution or reception (Lash & Lury 2007: 1920). It lies
close at hand to privilege any one of these moments so that it becomes the deter-
mining factor which decides the meaning of the product in every other context.
Instead, the notion of the biography makes it possible to highlight the book (and its
images) as part of an ongoing process of production, circulation, use and meaning.
As such, books and photographs are socially salient and emotive objects, not merely
passive entities in these processes (Edwards & Hart 2004: 4, Smith 2012: 10–11).
In other words, Nilsson’s bestseller was not only ascribed meaning but in itself had
effects as it circulated through different social and cultural milieus. This also sug-
gests that the relationship between the book and people engaged in its making, cir-
culation and uses was dynamic and historically variable (cf. Lash & Lury 2007: 16).
My concern, then, will be to follow A Child Is Born along its biographical trajec-
tory: how was the book transformed and importantly what effect did it have
from one period to another, from context to context?
In pursuing the biography of A Child Is Born I have collected and analysed a
wide range of primary sources from the early 1950s to the present. I was not able,
however, to gain access to Nilsson’s private and company archive collections and
was informed that documents had been purged from the Bonnier archive.
First, I
have studied some of the changing material aspects of the book in its various edi-
tions in Swedish as well as some of the translations. Second, I have examined the
making and marketing of the book, in part by conducting semi-structured interviews
with Nilsson’s co-authors and key figures in the Bonnier Publishing House.
to describe the uses, interpretations and criticisms of the book and its images, I have
consulted picture magazines, newspaper reviews and debates, sex education reports
and handbooks, anti-abortion material, and feminist discussions. In these ways,
then, I have tried to build a rich description of the historical movement and trans-
formation of this object in time and space as well as from several points of view.
Through the mapping of its trajectory I have increasingly come to understand A
Child Is Born as a book with not one, but many lives.
A hybrid book
A Child Is Born has been published in five different Swedish editions (1965, 1976,
1990, 2003 and 2009) that have been translated into more than twenty languages.
In particular, it has found its way into British and American markets.
The first and
second editions were co-authored by Axel Ingelman-Sundberg, professor and chief
physician at the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Sabbatsberg Hos-
pital in Stockholm, his wife Mirjam Furuhjelm, head of the endocrinology labora-
tory at the same hospital, and Claes Wirsén, a senior lecturer at the department of
Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015 [631]
histology at the Karolinska Institutet. Ingelman-Sundberg and Furuhjelm were re-
sponsible for the sections on practical advice on pregnancy, and Wirsén wrote the
sections explaining prenatal development. The texts for the third, fourth and fifth
editions were written by Lars Hamberger, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology
at Gothenburg University.
The five editions are very different from each other. Both images and texts have
changed in a substantial way, and these transformations have been very much part
of the identity of the book. Indeed, the newness of each edition was underlined on
the dust jackets. The first edition was said to be a globally sensational and unique
documentation of life before birth (1965: back cover). As stated on the back of the
1976 edition ‘the subject is, of course, the same’ but the text had been rewritten and
most of the images had been replaced. The 1990 edition was presented as ‘a new,
completely modern book about how a child is born’ (dust jacket). In 2003 it was
declared that ‘[a]lmost all of the images are new but some of the classics are there’
(dust jacket).
This marketing of the editions went hand in hand with the employment of the
rhetoric of scientific progress and technological mastery. Symptomatically, the first
edition credited the photographic genius of Nilsson for opening ‘a world that had
been hidden’ (1965: back cover), and the subsequent editions referred to new de-
vices that had allowed him to reveal never-seen details of the process of conception,
fertilisation and implantation (1976: 4, 1990: 209, 2003: 236, 2009: 217). In the
1990 and 2003 editions the story of how in vitro fertilisation had helped people to
become parents played an important part. On the dust jacket of the 2009 edition it
was implied that the book documented the ‘astonishing progress’ achieved by re-
search on human reproduction during the last decades: ‘A Child Is Born is the most
important illustrated work on human reproduction since the invention of photog-
In earlier research, these changes of images and texts over time have primarily
been analysed from feminist perspectives. Sandra Matthews and Laura Wexler, for
instance, have noted that the first three English editions presented different images
of heterosexual romance and sexuality, the working pregnant woman, and maternal
health and care (Matthews & Wexler 2000: 162163, 167170). Moreover, they
have argued that the cover pictures reveal a shifting relationship between the foetus
and the pregnant woman. On the front cover of the 1966 edition the foetus was
pictured as a spaceman, floating in a disembodied amniotic sac (the Swedish edition
had this image on the back instead). This was the same picture as the one featured
in the photo essay ‘Drama of Life before Birth’ in Life magazine (Nilsson & Rosen-
feld 1965). The cover of the 1976 edition showed a close-up of a foetus sucking its
thumb. In the next edition this foetus had been copied into an image of a pregnant
woman’s belly. According to Matthews and Wexler these covers describe a se-
quence that establishes the foetus as an independent individual (Matthews &
Wexler 2000: 163, 197). Although they do not go into details, they clearly see this
[632] Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015
shift in the light of the emergence of the American anti-abortion movement and the
notion of foetal personhood.
However, rather than exploring these changes in ways of representing human
reproduction and pregnancy I wish to focus on some of the material aspects of the
book. The 1965 edition was fashioned as an advice book for expectant mothers. It
can be described as a hybrid between photographic documentation of embryologi-
cal development and practical pregnancy advice. The three subsequent editions
were also packaged as advice books, offering visual information and counselling.
The fifth edition of 2009, however, broke completely with this format. It came out
in two versions, one square and smaller in size and one designed as a coffee table
book. In both cases the back cover presented it as ‘Lennart Nilsson’s unique photo-
graphic story a universal introduction to the miracle of life’. It addressed itself not
only to parents-to-be but ‘to all who want to take part in the wonder that Lennart
Nilsson has captured’ (quotations from the English edition). A new introduction
underlined the break with the earlier format. The former editions (except the third
edition) were provided with a preface written by the scientific co-authors and Nils-
son’s acknowledgements (usually at the back of the book) to people who had helped
him produce the photographs. Instead, the 2009 edition had an introduction written
not by a gynaecologist but by a picture editor, Mark Holborn, who had worked
previously with internationally renowned photographers (Goldin 1986, Mapple-
thorpe 1996) and also produced books on topics such as Soviet propaganda (Hol-
born 2007). The distinct scientific framing of the first edition had thus changed into
a fine-art packaging.
Significant changes in the quantity, character and motifs of the photographs as
well the visual technologies employed had also been made. The 1965 edition con-
tained around 150 images, including 50 in colour. About 40 showed a young woman
and her husband during the different stages of pregnancy and after the birth of their
child. In the subsequent editions the number of images (in particular, additions of
images of several new couples in different scenarios) had increased, and in the 1990
and 2003 editions almost all were in colour. In the first edition most of the photo-
graphs had been taken with conventional cameras equipped with special lenses. The
second edition included numerous coloured scanning electron microscope images.
In addition, the third and fourth editions contained images captured by a mix of
techniques: from endoscopy, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, fluorescence
microscopy to thermography. The fifth edition had been purged of much of this
diversity. For instance, there were no ultrasound images in this book.
The 2009 edition departed from earlier editions in several other respects. Strik-
ingly, it contained fewer images, only about 90, but instead they were in a larger
format, often covering a page or the spread. Of these images, 15 were in black-and-
white from the 1965 edition. In the 2009 edition there were no images at all of
pregnant women or parents-to-be. It opened with a series of the earliest photo-
graphs, followed by sections on the egg, the sperm, conception, pregnancy and
Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015 [633]
birth. In each section the images were presented first and they were followed by a
short text developing the theme.
This brief review of the five different editions of A Child Is Born published be-
tween 1965 and 2009 can be summarised in two general trends. First, the book was
transformed from a pregnancy advice book that relied on confidence in scientific
expertise to a coffee table book with artistic aspirations. The shift towards art was
also evident in the sparse selection of photographs, including several of the ‘classic’
black-and-white photographs while excluding the more ‘mechanical’ ultrasound
images from the fourth edition as well as didactic drawings. It was also indicated
by the placement and increasing size of Nilsson’s name on the cover and the first
pages. In the first edition all co-authors were given the same prominence. The 2009
edition, in contrast, placed Nilsson on the cover, underlining that he was the author
of the book. Second, A Child Is Born moved from the specific to the universal,
emphasising the perceived shared meanings of the images. The text was given less
importance than the images and the portraits of the couples and other people in
clothing and hairstyles from different decades were excluded. These may have been
considered to reflect transitory trends in fashion and, instead, only the ‘timeless’
images of embryos and foetuses were selected. Like the exhibition at Fotografiska
in Stockholm, then, the last edition of Nilsson’s book was designed to enhance the
iconic qualities of the photographs. But how and when did this multifaceted object
come to life?
Making a book on reproduction and pregnancy
The biography of A Child Is Born has no simple beginning. Even if it was released
in 1965, the images in the book can be linked to a history that goes back much
further. As suggested by Sarah Franklin and other scholars, Nilsson’s embryologi-
cal images belong to a longer anatomical tradition of staging and displaying human
specimens that made its way into popular culture during the decades after the Sec-
ond World War (Anker & Franklin 2011: 107108, Morgan 2009: 192193). More
specifically, the launching of new picture magazines such as Life, Look and, in Swe-
den, Se (‘See’) created a demand for spectacular photographs from modern life,
including scientific and medical topics (Lindberg 2004, Hansen 2009). In addition,
there was a boom in pregnancy advice books in Europe and the USA during this
period (Matthews & Wexler 2000: 151, 162, Sauerteig 2009: 129160). In even
broader terms, the biography of Nilsson’s book can be related to particular historical
conditions in post-war Sweden, including a relatively liberal abortion law, the emer-
gence of foetal research as well as strong public faith in scientific and medical pro-
gress (Jülich, in progress). At a particular historical juncture, these trajectories in-
tersected to produce a new material object, A Child Is Born.
This can be highlighted through contextualising Nilsson’s first story on human
reproduction. Although not widely known or discussed, the photographer embarked
[634] Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015
on his project on documenting human reproduction at a time characterised by bitter
abortion disputes (Jülich 2010, Jülich 2016a). In 1952 he was commissioned to pro-
duce a story on the controversial gynaecologist Per Wetterdal, who was professor
and chief physician at the department for obstetrics and gynaecology in Sabbats-
bergs hospital in Stockholm. Wetterdal was strongly opposed to the change in the
law that permitted abortions on socio-medical grounds and had therefore refused to
perform them. Supported by Axel Ingelman Sundberg, Mirjam Furuhjelm and other
colleagues he ran a campaign to rouse public opinion for more restrictive legisla-
tion. In spite of Wetterdal’s dislike of the ‘sensational press’ Nilsson was permitted
to bring his camera to photograph the hospital’s collection of embryonic and foetal
specimens. Eventually an article featuring an enlarged photograph of a five-month-
old foetus acquired through legal abortion appeared in ‘See’ under the heading
‘Why Must the Foetus Be Killed?’ (Nilsson & Hillgren 1952). Here, as in Nilsson’s
later works, image and text worked together to emphasise the human features of
dead embryos and foetuses.
This anti-abortion article became the press photographer’s gateway to the med-
ical world. For about ten years and with financial support from the Bonnier pub-
lishing house, Nilsson collaborated with researchers and doctors at Sabbatsberg and
other gynaecological departments at the large hospitals in Stockholm to photograph
the different stages of foetal development (Jülich 2016a). These images were made
possible either through surgical interventions due to ectopic pregnancies and mis-
carriages or legal abortions. This was before informed consent had been established
as an ethical principle and oral evidence from my interviews with key medical ac-
tors suggests that the women undergoing operations were not asked about their par-
ticipation in the photographic project (Jülich, in progress). During the process sev-
eral articles were published in ‘See’ and other illustrated magazines, and some of
them were explicitly anti-abortion. As recently as 1964 Nilsson contributed to a
report in another Bonnier magazine that used a close-up of a legally aborted foetus
to ‘shock’ its readers (Nilsson & Uddén 1964).
The conversion of the hospital’s operating theatre into a photographic studio was
thus a prerequisite for the imagery that came to be part of A Child Is Born (Jülich
2014b, Jülich 2016b). Various sophisticated techniques such as magnification,
back-light and colour were used to prompt the viewers to wonder at the beauty and
formal perfection of the foetuses. In other words, the ‘space’ that the famous
‘Spaceman’ was said to float in was not the inside of the body but a tank of saline
solution, and the details of the image that resembled distant stars and planets where
water bubbles and fragments from the placenta. That many embryos and foetuses
remained inside their inner membranes and were still anchored in the womb through
the umbilical cord contributed to the impression that they had been photographed
inside the body.
When the Bonnier Publishing House decided to produce A Child Is Born the
‘times were a-changin’ (Jülich 2015a). By the early 1960s students and political
Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015 [635]
groups had started to demand free abortion and reform of sex education in schools.
Two state commissions were appointed in Sweden to investigate and present re-
forms in these areas. No doubt, this affected the repackaging of Nilsson’s images
as sex education and practical pregnancy advice by the editors at Bonnier. The pho-
tographer himself, at least until the completion of the book, declared in interviews
that he was hoping his images of embryos would ‘prevent many unnecessary abor-
tions’ (‘Kungafonden’ 1964). The publishers ensured however that any explicit ref-
erence to this topic was excluded from the volume.
After several years of work, A Child Is Born was issued during the autumn of
1965 to allow enough time to promote the book before Christmas (Tolander 2008,
Wirsén 2008). The photographer and his images on human reproduction were al-
ready well-known through the publication of ‘Drama of Life before Birth’ in Life
magazine earlier that year (Nilsson & Rosenfeld 1965). The daily newspapers were
quick to report on Nilsson’s international success and this was a boost for Bonnier’s
marketing campaign for the book (Jülich 2015a). Since the company not only dom-
inated book and magazine publishing but was also the largest shareholder in several
daily newspapers, there were various channels for reaching the target group. Above
all, their promotion focused on the spectacular qualities of the images and included
everything from advertisements in the press to book-store displays. Seeand two
other magazines belonging to the Bonnier Group also presented selections of the
material from the forthcoming book, mixing and framing it in different ways. The
campaign was successful, and the publication of Nilsson’s book became a feature
covered by television and several newspapers.
Publication can be described as the moment in the biography when the object
acquired integrity as a creative work. Up until then it had existed in fragments, i.e.
the visual material was part of the body of photographs that Nilsson had produced
and circulated in the Bonnier magazines and Life. But the outcome of this integra-
tion should not be understood as a static object. Once the book (with its images)
was ready, it could be circulated, used and appropriated by different people, groups,
organisations and companies.
Circulating (the images in) the book
A Child Is Born was adapted from the start to an international market. Prior to its
release, Bonnier contacted publishers abroad and proposed a deal for a translation
of the Swedish edition (Grenholm 2008, Tolander 2008). Beginning with the sec-
ond edition, they could offer a novel production model. All sheets of images were
printed at the same time so that the sheets with texts in each language could be
added. As colour images were expensive, this procedure reduced the overall pro-
duction costs and made translations more economically viable.
Despite this production model, local considerations threatened the unity of the
book. Bonnier accepted, for example, the production by the French, Russian and
[636] Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015
Israeli publishers of their own texts as long as they could be set as the format spec-
ified. The spreads on the other hand were not to be changed. Nevertheless, pro-
tracted discussions took place with foreign publishers who wanted to replace pic-
tures. The Japanese publisher did not want pictures of childbirth where women’s
genitals were visible (Grenholm 2008). In Holland, where home birth was common,
it was considered that too much was devoted to ‘the time to go to the hospital
(Hamberger 2009). In the USA the black man/white woman couple on the inside
cover of the third edition was viewed as provocative since it indicated mixed-race
marriage. According to co-author Lars Hamberger the American publisher queried
if the image could be manipulated to make the skin of the man appear whiter (Ham-
berger 2009). It was therefore a strategic move to exclude the images of couples in
the last edition. Love was perhaps universal, but everything that anchored romantic
images of couples to time, place and ethnicity ran the risk of rendering them all too
soon outdated, unfamiliar or challenging.
But the adaptations to various languages and cultural scenarios were only one of
many trajectories the book has followed. The images in the different editions have
had their own careers. Over the years, Bonnier developed several commercial strat-
egies for moving and marketing the visual content in A Child Is Born. These tactics
can be highlighted using some key concepts in cultural and media studies.
First, the strategy of intermediality can be observed in the reuse of the images in
other books on human reproduction, authored by Nilsson as well as others. The term
‘intermediality’ has been applied to define the relationship between different media,
often focussing on formal, stylistic and aesthetic qualities. I follow scholars that
argue that economic, technological and cultural aspects are equally important as-
pects (Süss 2012: 212–214). Among the books featuring many of the same images
as in A Child Is Born are educational books adapted for children (Nilsson, Cornell
& Pettersson 1975, Nilsson & Swanberg 1996, Kitzinger & Nilsson 1986) as well
as biology textbooks for students (Brum, McKane & Karp 1994). Most recently, a
pregnancy diary with a selection of the photographic material from the fifth edition
of Nilsson‘s book was released (Nilsson 2011). In several television films produced
by Swedish public television from the 1970s to 2010 the images were frequently
used and reused (Eriksson & Löfman 1982, Eriksson & Agaton 1996, Agaton
2010). These examples point to the product development and marketing strategies
of the Bonnier publishers. By selling visual contents in various styles, genres and
media, new target groups and consumers could be addressed to intensify the market
for this product.
Second, this kind of exchange between media was also developed in a more de-
liberate way. It could be described as the mutual process of refashioning new and
old media or what Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin call ‘remediation’ (Bolter
& Grusin 2009). For instance, shortly after the 1965 release, the drama of human
development in A Child Is Born was transferred to and gave substance to the new
television medium, thereby adding sound and music to the experience of viewing
Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015 [637]
the images in the book (Nilsson, Wirsén, Bernholm & Wallén, 1965; for a discus-
sion, see Jülich 2013). To mention another example, around 1980 one affiliated
company of the Bonnier Publishing House experimented with a model for an elec-
tronic encyclopaedia stored on a video laserdisc that used A Child Is Born as a re-
source (Pettersson 2009). A search on an early personal computer using the letter
‘F’ (as in ‘foetal development’) led to the presentation of elements of text, image,
and sound. Thus, new media were shaped and animated through old media.
Third, Bonnier developed a strategy that resembles what Henry Jenkins has
termed ‘transmedia storytelling’, the unfolding of a story across several media (Jen-
kins 2006: 9597). For example, shortly after the release of A Child Is Born the
magazine Idun Veckojournalen (‘Idun Weekly Record’) featured a story about the
couple that figured in the book, which was also published in Life (Nilsson & Graves
1965, 1966). This story added personal details about the expectant mother and her
husband. The readers were thus invited to engage further in the life of the couple.
Moreover Idun published a special supplement on how the material in Nilsson’s
book was used in sex education in school (Nilsson & Lindeberg 1965). Another
issue featured the photographer together with his twelve-year-old son studying the
pictures (‘Livet före födelsen’ 1965). These last two instances show that transmedia
storytelling can also involve promotion of content through other media.
Fourth, beginning in the 1970s the Bonnier Group repackaged a selection of
Nilsson’s images and sold them as photo graphics in a numbered and signed edition;
there was great demand from people who wanted them in their homes or offices
(Pettersson 2009). The grander aspiration was to make the art world accept Nils-
son’s work as worthy of private and institutional collecting. This was a strategy
shared by many photographers of the same generation that had also started off as
press photographers working on commission rather than with their own work
(Guadagnini 2013).
Thus, through the various translations as well as the strategies of intermediality,
remediation, transmedia storytelling and repackaging it becomes clear that the bi-
ography of A Child Is Born not only included the extensive movement of the object,
but also its pervasive transformation. These examples indicate that the movement
of the images across media was an organisational process that can be related to what
is usually described as creativity, authorship and copyright. This also goes for the
selling of separate images to individuals, associations and companies, even if it was
difficult for the publisher to control their flow. There was however another kind of
process in which it was the intense characteristics of the object that enabled move-
ment rather that its relation to a fixed origin (cf. Lash & Lury 2007: 25). Here I am
thinking in particular of the photographs of foetuses and their capacity to evoke
sensation and affect.
[638] Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015
Uses and appropriations
In tracking the movement of A Child Is Born I have been able to identify many uses
of the book and its images. While Bonnier coordinated some of these, others lacked
the company’s and the photographer’s consent. There was however a grey-zone,
especially during the first decade. It was Nilsson who held the copyright to his work
but since several of the images had been published in Life, Time Inc. started to sell
them in the USA and also marketed some audio-visual material that the company
had produced on its own (Streiffert 2009). According to Bonnier publisher Bo
Streiffert he made ‘desperate efforts’ to bring order to this situation but it took until
the 1970s before the rights issue had been clarified. As a result, today he no longer
recalls who permitted the use of Nilsson’s images in The Terrible Choice, published
in the USA at the end of the 1960s, and often referred to as critical of abortion
(Cokke & Buck 1968).
As mentioned, at a particular point of time Bonnier decided to make A Child Is
Born into a visual advice book on foetal development and pregnancy advice. The
launch coincided with a reorganisation of sex education in Swedish schools, which
had been mandatory since 1956. In view of strong criticism of the instruction of-
fered, a state commission was set up in 1964. One recommendation in their report
was that sex education must use new audio-visual material designed specifically for
the purpose (Utredningen rörande sexual- och samlevnadsfrågor i undervisnings-
och upplysningsarbetet 1974: 80214). The members of the commission and other
experts in the field were enthusiastic about the potential of using Nilsson’s photo-
graphs. One of the members, sexologist Maj-Briht Bergström-Walan, began to col-
laborate with the photographer on several mixed-media projects (Bergström-Walan
2009). Together with Wirsén she wrote the script for the film The Child that com-
bined Nilsson’s foetal photographs with drawings and live shooting to portray the
experience of pregnancy from the moment of conception to childbirth and the
homecoming from the hospital with the baby (Nilsson et al. 1967; for a discussion,
see Jülich 2011: 133). The film was used in both schools and maternity classes as
scientific, accurate views of embryonic and foetal development. Also, a book au-
thored by family councillor Birgitta Linnér and oriented towards the American au-
dience, Sex and Society in Sweden, featured photographs of school children (taken
by the photographer himself) marvelling at his pictures of human reproduction to
promote Sweden as a sexual progressive country (Linnér & Nilsson 1967).
In the USA, in contrast, the photographs in Nilsson’s book were increasingly
used in campaigns against abortion. The pro-life movement emerged as a reaction
to a growing struggle for abortion rights in the years before the Roe v. Wade Su-
preme Court decision in 1973 legalising abortion in the USA (Hughes 2006ab).
Although opposed to many of the ideals that fuelled the social activism of the 1960s,
anti-abortion supporters were inspired by the strategy of the anti-Vietnam War
movement to mobilise opinion by using pictures of children and motherhood. The
Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015 [639]
architects behind the visual tactics in the early pro-life movement were a Catholic
couple from Cincinnati, the physician Jack Willke and his wife Barbara Willke
(Gorney 1998: 96106). Apart from lecturing and giving television and radio talks,
they also produced audio-visual presentations and wrote several books that became
the canonical literature of the National Right to Life Committee. In How to Teach
the Pro-Life Story, the authors greatly recommended the use of Nilsson’s photo-
graphs to convince people that what grows inside the womb is human life (Willke
& Willke 1973). These ‘life-like’ looking pictures, they argued, had scientific cred-
ibility and were so ‘powerful’ that they could be used in nearly any way and still be
Today Nilsson’s photographs of embryos and foetuses can be found everywhere
in our mediatised culture. This is not simply an effect of the successful business
strategies of Bonnier and their associated partners but also of the unauthorised cir-
culation and use of these images. For instance, at various photo-sharing websites,
people borrow his pictures to create slideshows on the beginnings of life. YouTube
members upload videos that combine, often unacknowledged, Nilsson’s images
with their personal images to tell pregnancy and childbirth stories. On internet fo-
rums, blogs and other websites individuals and organisations use his foetal imagery
to mobilise support for arguments about reproductive rights, sex education and
abortion. In many ways this sharing, remixing and moving of image contents seem
to be characteristic of what has been referred to as a participatory culture or a user-
generated context (Jenkins 2006, Ekström et al. 2011: 1–9).
Debating the photographs of life before birth
The biography of A Child Is Born also includes the critical debates that have sur-
rounded the book. I wish to focus on discussions of the materiality of the images
or, more specifically, how they were produced and the uses of aborted embryos and
foetuses for the visual representation of human reproduction. There have been con-
cerned readers and reviewers querying the techniques involved and what the images
show since the early reception of the book and their numbers have grown through
the years.
Apparently, these questions have not been answered by reading the book. Once
again it is interesting to compare the different editions and translations. In the first,
second and third Swedish editions nothing was explicitly said about the fact that
most of the images were made possible due to medical or surgical abortions. Where
the translations are concerned, the only exception I have found so far is the first
Danish edition from 1966, which had been provided with a foreword by the doctor
Erik Münster. He stated that Nilsson had captured the images of the foetuses im-
mediately after they had been aborted: ‘They are thus photographed outside the
womb but as a rule placed in a fluid so that they have the same appearance as when
they are floating in the amniotic fluid inside the pregnant woman’ (Münster 1966:
[640] Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015
7). Only in the fourth Swedish edition, published in 2003, were a few words about
the making of the images included. It was claimed that the pictures were taken with
the help of new reproduction and visualisation technologies, but that there were no
photographs of embryos or foetuses aborted by medical or surgical means (2003:
236). A section of the larger, coffee table version of the most recent edition was
reserved for ‘The history of a book’ that included a chronological timetable starting
with ‘the first experimental work in the beginning of the 1950s up to this latest
edition’ (2009: 220). The origin of the first photographs of foetuses were said to
have been from ‘a story about abortion’ but no more details were given. Thus, the
five editions have been engaged in producing slightly different versions of the
book’s contextual history. This story still excludes accounts that connect Nilsson’s
photographic work to legal abortion activities and debates in the 1950s and 1960s.
During the life history of A Child Is Born critical voices have pointed out that
the photographs depicted aborted foetuses and they have questioned the ethics of
Nilsson’s image-making. In a review published in 1965 in the Swedish Medical
Association’s journal Läkartidningen, Lars Engström, chairman of the abortion
committee of the State Medical Board, stated that the book was ‘lightly disguised
anti-abortion propaganda’ (Engström 1965a: 3818). Furthermore, images and texts
were combined to deceive the readers:
I just want to refer to the women who in reality were to have been mothers of the
foetuses that are depicted. It is presupposed that the readers have realised that the
pictures show foetuses that are dead, removed by operations or legal abortions. The
caption to a picture has the following to say about the eyes of the foetus in the fourth
pregnancy month: ‘Infinite calm rests in these faces. They look as if they are waiting
for eternity. But it is the short life on earth they are preparing for and it is not sleep
that keeps their eyes shut.’
Is this embryological poetry or deception? The truth is down to earth and simple: the
eyes in the picture will never see (Engström 1965b: 4295).
Engström was one of the few at the time to express what was explicit to every
trained gynaecologist’s eye: Nilsson’s pictures showed dead aborted foetuses. This
was apparent by the look of the skin colour of the foetuses in the photographs that
were not as rosy as of living foetuses, but white with marked veins and arteries.
When I interviewed Kerstin Hagenfeldt, who was then a member of the board of
the Swedish Society for Obstetrics and Gynaecology, she recalled that the issue was
discussed among the leading specialists, and many were surprised by the lack of
public debate (Hagenfeldt 2010). But, apart from Engström, there were not many
in the profession who wanted to discuss the issue in public since this would have
been considered disloyal towards Ingelman-Sundberg.
During the 1960s and early 1970s there were however some journalists in the
daily papers that recurrently pointed out the connection between Nilsson’s work
and legal abortions (Jülich, in progress). They were particularly anxious about re-
ports and rumours about ‘experiments’ on human foetuses taking place in laborato-
ries at Karolinska Institutet and elsewhere. Human material was used for research
Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015 [641]
and the development of vaccines and drugs, as aborted foetuses were said to be kept
alive for hours in an ‘artificial womb’. It was in this research milieu that Nilsson
had taken some of the photographs for his book and the journalists accused him of
unethical behaviour and commercial profit. But after the new abortion law allowing
elective abortion up until 18 weeks of pregnancy had been passed in 1974 this de-
bate faded away.
Around 2000 a new and heated discussion of Nilsson’s images started and this
time it was the leader of the social-conservative Christian Democrat party, Alf
Svensson, who expressed his great concern in the evening papers about the ‘new’
information about the images (William-Olsson & Wetterqvist 2000). For a couple
of days the papers featured headlines such as ‘The foetuses in the famous pictures
are dead’, and ‘Head of the organisation “Save the Children” rages against the im-
ages of dead foetuses in the world-famous book’ (Hedlund & Johansson 2000).
In contrast to these relatively few critical voices in Sweden, a discussion with
broader implications has been going on in Britain and the USA. As I mentioned in
the introduction to this article, it was during the heyday of the anti-abortion move-
ment in the 1990s that feminist scholars and activists began to draw attention to
Nilsson’s foetal photographs (Franklin 1991, Duden 1993, Stabile 1992, Berlant
1997). Their motivation was the protection of women’s right to legal termination
of pregnancy and they focused upon the ideological content of the images. Above
all, these analyses have emphasised the construction of the foetus as an autonomous
individual and how this is linked to political interests and agendas.
Surveying these critical debates about A Child Is Born over the years, it is rele-
vant to ask if and in what ways they have affected the work on the new editions. In
interviews with me, several of the editors engaged at different times in preparing
editions of the book as well as Nilsson’s co-authors recounted that they avoided
answering more specific questions about how the images had been produced (To-
lander 2008, Grenholm 2008, Dal 2008, Wirsén 2008). Fearing strong reactions that
could jeopardise the commercial project, or sensing that it would detract focus from
the essential topic of the book, they kept this information to themselves and their
colleagues. Thus, in an indirect way the criticism of the photographer’s image prac-
tices influenced how people at Bonnier related to the book and its audiences.
But the critical debates also had more direct effects on the production of new
editions that can be related to what Lynn M. Morgan has described as ‘the silencing
of foetal death’, a desire to forget the history of embryo collections on the part of
different scientific and medical actors involved in this practice as well as in society
in general (Morgan 2009: 29, 229–230). During the first half of the twentieth cen-
tury anatomists in collaboration with physicians and surgeons collected dead em-
bryos and foetuses as evidence for their investigation of human origins and devel-
opment. By the 1960s these collections with whole embryos and foetuses stored in
alcohol or prepared as histological sections were no longer considered scientifically
important but rather somewhat embarrassing and not to be talked about.
[642] Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015
Similarly, Nilsson, the editors and the co-authoring gynaecologists participated
in the silencingof aborted specimen in the famous photographs. Bearing the ques-
tions about the ethics of his work in mind, raised by Svensson and others, the pho-
tographer first insisted that no images of dead foetuses should be included in the
2003 edition (Hamberger 2009). While this was not complied with, it was regarded
crucial to testify that the foetoscopic images (or at least one) were of a living foetus
by including a photograph taken four months later of the baby born at full term and
its mother (2003: 129). Nilsson and Hamberger also wanted an ultrasound image
for the cover of the book since this would signal the photographer’s use of non-
invasive technique with no risk of damaging the foetus, but this was considered
unattractive and thus a poor commercial choice by the editors (Hamberger 2009).
This episode and the other instances that I have discussed indicate that the biog-
raphy also entails a moment when the object becomes self-reflexive, modifying its
behaviour in different environments and scripting its own history.
This paper has adopted a biographical approach to show the movements and trans-
formations of A Child Is Born over the last five decades. The aim has been to outline
the complex life history of this particular object from its conception and production
to the processes of circulation, uses and interpretations. It would however be a mis-
take to presume that Nilsson’s book has followed a linear path of change and dis-
tribution. As Scott Lash and Celia Lury have underlined ‘there is no simple begin-
ning or end point in a culture of circulation, but rather a dynamic of forces’ (Lash
& Lury 2007: 135–136).
In mapping the biography of the book I noted that the embryological and foetal
photographs in the book are only their most recent appearance in a long series of
circulations and transformations. And after its release in Swedish, the book with
these images was translated into other languages, followed by later editions and
translations. Moreover, during half a century Nilsson’s images have moved through
a wide range of media. They have travelled across national borders and appeared in
many different settings, engaging doctors opposed to abortion, sex education re-
formers, anti-abortion activists, feminist scholars, and other interpretative commu-
As I have pointed out, at least two principles of transformation were at work in
this biography (cf. Lash & Lury 2007: 25). In the first process, despite undergoing
significant changes, the book preserved a material and discursive unity and moved
in relatively fixed domains. This movement occurred in relation to an origin that
can be understood in terms of creativity, authorship and copyright. The second pro-
cess did not require the integrity of a creative work. Rather, it was the intense fea-
tures of the book and its images, their affective and iconic power, which enabled
the circulation and appropriations.
Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015 [643]
These processes have worked to co-produce and change the identity of A Child
Is Born: it has been transformed from a pregnancy advice book for expectant moth-
ers to an artistic coffee table volume. Similarly, it has changed from more specific
views of pregnancy and childbirth into a ‘universal introduction to the miracle of
life’. Rather than being a fixed and stable object, Nilsson’s book could be described
as a busy intersection for images and texts in constant motion. Entangled in a culture
of circulation, the book has taken on a dynamic of its own. It has moved as much
through accident as through design. In these changes, the book has become self-
reflexive in its adjustments over a range of arenas and milieus.
Through the kind of biography that has been studied here it becomes possible to
develop a greater understanding of the communication of human reproduction over
a longer period of time. The history of A Child Is Born demonstrates that it is in the
circulation of cultural forms that meanings of foetal life have been constituted and
contested. In addition, it suggests that the different life phases of books and images
that mediate knowledge about reproduction are equally important in providing a
grasp of their vital roles in shifting forums and communities. This emphasis on
movements over time and space also complicates any notion of these objects as
fixed products. The life of (the images in) Nilsson’s book encompasses many lives,
each ensnared in the trajectories and transformations of others.
Note on the lack of figures
The author has for several years been granted the permission to use Lennart Nils-
son’s photographs in academic publications that report the results of the research
project funded by the Swedish Research Council. For each image a fee has been
paid to the right holder Lennart Nilsson Photography AB through the TT News
Agency. As previously this paper was meant to include visual materials, specifically
covers and spreads from the various editions of A Child Is Born. However, Lennart
Nilsson Photography AB has now set conditions making it practically impossible
to publish these images for the author. This happened after an article by the author
was issued in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in July 19, 2015 that out-
lined and discussed Lennart Nilsson’s contribution to anti-abortion campaigns in
1950s and early 1960s Sweden. For a biographer of A Child Is Born this is an intri-
guing turn in the life of the book but for historical research on Nilsson’s powerful
images it represents a serious setback. In extension, these kinds of practices are
counterproductive to the dissemination of knowledge that remains a fundamental
mission of scholarly journals.
[644] Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015
Solveig Jülich is Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer at the Department of
History of Science and Ideas, Uppsala University, Sweden. She has published sev-
eral articles and book chapters on the Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson and
his iconic pictures of embryos and foetuses. Currently, she is working on the history
of foetal research in Sweden during the post-war period and after.
This research was supported by the Swedish Research Council (Dnr 2014-1749).
The author would like to thank the participants at the conference ‘Communicating
Reproduction’, held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Uni-
versity of Cambridge on December 56, 2011, and the anonymous referees of this
journal for stimulating discussions and helpful commentaries on earlier versions.
This description is based on personal notes from a visit to the exhibition and an introductory text
on Fotografiska’s website:
Born (accessed 10/10/11, no longer available). It is currently offered as one of Fotografiska’s trav-
elling exhibitions: (accessed
Solveig Jülich, Images of Life and Death: The Lennart Nilsson Industry, 19402010’ (working
title for book manuscript, in progress).
From now on, unless stated otherwise, I refer to the Swedish editions and cite only the years and
pages or front/back cover. Also, for the 2009 edition, which was published in both a smaller and
larger format, the latter with an additional text by Mark Holborn, I cite the smaller, if not otherwise
indicated. Translations are, when possible, from the English editions but, if not, my own.
The production, marketing and reception of the first Swedish edition have been analysed in Jülich
2015a. For a brief discussion on the iconic images in the first, second, and third English editions,
see Matthews & Wexler 2000: 162170.
This is a rich field of interdisciplinary study that has been greatly influenced by Appadurai, ed.
(1986). For a recent discussion on the status of social biography in material and visual cultures
studies today, see Edwards (2012). This article draws in particular from the methodology that has
been elaborated by Lash & Lury (2007): see especially chapter 2.
TT News Agency, the national wire service in Sweden, represents Lennart Nilsson’s images world-
wide. An archive with a selection of images is available at: (ac-
cessed 11/07/15). Nilsson‘s family-owned company, Lennart Nilsson Photography AB, has a web-
site with some materials and links: (accessed 11/07/15).
Recordings and transcripts of the interviews, conducted from 2008 to 2010, are in the possession
of the author. An interview with Lennart Nilsson (January 17, 2009) has not been included since,
due to old age, he did not recall the details of these events. These interviews, critically assessed by
comparison with one another and, where possible, with written sources, have revealed important
details concerning the strategies involved in producing and marketing the book. For a discussion of
related methodological issues, see de Chadarevian (1997).
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In an interview with the author on November 7, 2008, Axel Ingelman-Sundberg recalled that his
wife, Mirjam Furhjelm, wrote most of the text since he was too busy at the time. However, she was
not acknowledged as co-author until the second edition.
Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015 [645]
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Münster, Erik (1966): ‘Forord’, Lennart Nilsson, Axel Ingelman-Sundberg & Claes Wirsén: Et barn
bliver til: En billedskildring af de 9 måneder før fødslen en praktisk vejledning for den vordende
mor, København: Gyldendal.
Nilsson, Lennart & Karl E. Hillgren, ‘Varför måste fostret dödas?’, Se, no. 28, 1952, 1317.
Nilsson, Lennart & Per Uddén, ‘Rädda våra ofödda’, Idun Veckojournalen, no. 46, 1964, 1923.
Nilsson, Lennart & Albert Rosenfeld (1965): ‘Drama of Life before Birth’, Life, 30 April, 5472A.
Nilsson, Lennart & Eleanor Graves (1965): ‘Att få ett barn’, Idun Veckojournalen, no. 38, 2633,
4648, and no. 39, 3442, 44.
Nilsson, Lennart & Eleanor Graves (1966): ‘A Woman on Her Way to a Miracle’, Life, July 22, 48
Nilsson, Lennart & Jackie Lindeberg (1965): ‘En lektion för livet’, Idun Veckojournalen, no. 39,
1619, 50, 52.
Nilsson, Lennart, Axel Ingelman-Sundberg & Claes Wirsén (1965): Ett barn blir till: En bildskild-
ring av de nio månaderna före födelsen: En praktisk rådgivare för den blivande mamman, 1st
Swedish ed., Stockholm: Bonnier.
Nilsson, Lennart, Axel Ingelman-Sundberg & Claes Wirsén (1966): A Child Is Born: The Drama of
Life before Birth in Unprecedented Photographs; A Practical Guide for the Expectant Mother,
1st American ed., New York: Delacorte Press
Nilsson, Lennart, Axel Ingelman-Sundberg & Claes Wirsén (1967): The Everyday Miracle: A Child
Is Born, 1st British ed., London: Allen Lane/The Penguin Press.
Nilsson, Lennart, Mirjam Furuhjelm, Axel Ingelman-Sundberg & Claes Wirsén (1976): Ett barn
blir till: En bildskildring av barnets tillblivelse före födelsen och praktiska råd när man väntar
barn, 2nd Swedish ed,, Stockholm: Bonnier.
Nilsson, Lennart, Mirjam Furuhjelm, Axel Ingelman-Sundberg & Claes Wirsén (1977): A Child Is
Born: New Photographs of Life before Birth and Up-To-Date Advice for Expectant Parents, 2nd
American ed., New York: Delacorte Press.
Nilsson, Lennart, Axel Ingelman-Sundberg, Claes Wirsén & Mirjam Furuhjelm (1977): A Child Is
Born: New Photographs of Life before Birth and Up-To-Date Advice for Expectant Parents, 2nd
British ed., London: Faber & Faber.
Nilsson, Lennart & Lars Hamberger (1990): Ett barn blir till, 3rd Swedish ed., Stockholm: Bonnier.
Nilsson, Lennart & Lars Hamberger (1990): A Child Is Born, 3rd American ed., New York: De-
lacorte Press.
Nilsson, Lennart & Lars Hamberger (1990): A Child Is Born, 3rd British ed., London: Doubleday.
Nilsson, Lennart & Lars Hamberger (2003): Ett barn blir till, 4th Swedish ed., Stockholm: Bonnier.
Nilsson, Lennart & Lars Hamberger (2003): A Child Is Born, 4th American ed., New York: De-
lacorte Press.
Nilsson, Lennart & Lars Hamberger (2003): A Child Is Born, 4th British ed., London:
Nilsson, Lennart & Lars Hamberger (2009): Ett barn blir till, 5th Swedish ed., small format. Stock-
holm: Bonnier.
Nilsson, Lennart, Lars Hamberger & Mark Holborn (2009): Ett barn blir till, 5th Swedish ed., large
format. Stockholm: Bonnier.
Nilsson, Lennart & Lars Hamberger (2009): A Child Is Born, 5th English ed., small format. London:
Jonathan Cape.
Nilsson, Lennart, Lars Hamberger & Mark Holborn (2009): A Child Is Born, 5th English ed., large
format. London: Jonathan Cape.
Nilsson, Lennart (2011): Ett barn blir till: Dagboken, Stockholm: Bonnier.
Nilsson, Lennart, Jan Cornell & Rune Pettersson (1975): How You Began: A Story in Pictures, Har-
mondsworth: Kestrel Books.
Nilsson, Lennart & Lena Katarina Swanberg (1996): How Was I Born? A Child’s Journey Through
the Miracle of Birth, New York: Bantam Dell Publishing Group.
Sauerteig, Lutz (2009): ‘Representations of Pregnancy and Childbirth in (West) German Sex Edu-
cation Books, 1900s1970s’, Lutz D. H. Sauerteig & Roger Davidson (eds): Shaping Sexual
Knowledge: A Cultural History of Sex Education in Twentieth Century Europe, London:
[648] Culture Unbound, Volume 7, 2015
Smith, Helen (2012): ‘Grossly Material Things’: Women and Book Production in Early Modern
England, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stabile, Carol A. (1992): ‘Shooting the Mother: Fetal Photography and the Politics of Disappear-
ance’, Camera Obscura, 10, no. 28, 178205.
Süss, Gunter (2012): ‘“Turn Your Radio On”: Intermediality in the Computer Game Grand Theft
Auto: San Andreas’, Bernd Herzogenrath (ed.): Travels in Intermedia[lity]: ReBlurring the
Boundaries, Hanover: Dartmouth College Press.
Utredningen rörande sexual- och samlevnadsfrågor i undervisnings- och upplysningsarbetet (1974):
Sexual- och samlevnadsundervisning, Stockholm: LiberFörlag/Allmänna förlaget.
William-Olsson, Margareta & Anna Wetterqvist (2000): ‘Fostren på berömda bilder är döda’, Gö-
teborgs-Posten, 1 October.
Willke, Jack & Barbara Willke (1973): How to Teach the Pro-Life Story, Cincinatti, Ohio: Hiltz &
Hayes Publishing Co.
Television programmes and films with photographs by Lennart Nilsson
(1965): Så börjar livet, written by Claes Wirsén and Bernt Bernholm, produced by Lasse Wallén,
(1967): Barnet 1–2, written by Claes Wirsén, and Maj-Brith Bergström-Walan, produced and di-
rected by H. Cronsioe, Svensk Tonfilm.
(1982): Sagan om livet, written and produced by Bo. G. Eriksson and Carl O. Löfman.
(1996): Livets mirakel, written and produced by Bo. G. Eriksson, directed by Mikael Agaton.
(2010): Resan till livets kärna, written and directed by Mikael Agaton.
Buklijas, Tatjana & Nick Hopwood (2008): Making Visible Embryos, (accessed 12/07/15).
Fotografiska (2011):
(accessed 10/10/11).
Fotografiska (2015): (accessed
Lennart Nilsson Photography AB (2015): (accessed 12/07/15).
TT News Agency (2015): (accessed 12/07/15).
Interviews by the author
Bergström-Walan, Maj-Briht, January 16, 2009.
Dal, Barbro, January 12, 2009.
Grenholm, Lennart, December 22, 2008.
Hagenfeldt, Kerstin, June 28, 2010.
Hamberger, Lars, March 3, 2009.
Ingelman-Sundberg, Axel, November 7, 2008.
Pettersson, Rune, January 13, 2009.
Streiffert, Bo, December 3, 2009.
Tolander, Bo, November 27, 2008.
Wirsén, Claes, October 29, 2008.
The Abortion Act 1967 may be the most contested law in UK history, sitting on a fault line between the shifting tectonic plates of a rapidly transforming society. While it has survived repeated calls for its reform, with its text barely altered for over five decades, women's experiences of accessing abortion services under it have evolved considerably. Drawing on extensive archival research and interviews, this book explores how the Abortion Act was given meaning by a diverse cast of actors including women seeking access to services, doctors and service providers, campaigners, judges, lawyers, and policy makers. By adopting an innovative biographical approach to the law, the book shows that the Abortion Act is a 'living law'. Using this historically grounded socio-legal approach, this enlightening book demonstrates how the Abortion Act both shaped and was shaped by a constantly changing society.
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In 1968, Swedish insurance company Folksam launched the information campaign Front mot miljöförstöringen (“Front against Environmental Degradation”). The campaign culminated in 1969 with large public hearings where young people addressed local politicians and industry leaders about environmental problems. Throughout this campaign, the aim was to activate youth and make them co-creators of large-scale social change. Within a year, initiatives were taken to launch the campaign in other Nordic countries as well. In this chapter, we explore this early transnational Nordic initiative to raise environmental awareness and the role of children and youth in advancing these issues in the Swedish and Norwegian editions of the campaign. By analysing the various media involved, we specifically discuss the interplay between information and activation.
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This chapter explores the travels of 1970s’ Maoist ballet films from the People’s Republic of China to Finnish television and outlines the political context for these broadcasts. The study centres on Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE’s Film Service, an independent unit responsible for rental of foreign films and series for television from 1967 to 1987. By broadcasting a wide selection of foreign films from around the world, YLE Film Service participated in shaping a national collective mindset and people’s views of the world.
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In this afterword, Peter Stadius ties together the chapters in Nordic Media Histories of Propaganda and Persuasion and summarizes some of the book’s key themes. Among other things, Stadius emphasizes the importance of Nordic cooperation—as well as the difficulties of such cooperation. Furthermore, Stadius underlines that the concept of propaganda is related to the regional concept of folkbildning, which tends to be described as a cornerstone of Nordic democracy.KeywordsNordic ModelPropagandaNordic brandNordic cooperationTransnational Folkbildning
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This chapter explores the circulation, use and public discussion of images of human foetuses travelling from the US to Sweden in the period before and after the introduction of abortion on demand in Sweden in 1975. In this period, new antiabortion groups formed and started to use graphic images of aborted foetuses in their campaigns. This chapter highlights the transnational and transmedial character of this material by demonstrating that many of the images originated from American sources and that many different media were used to spread them, for example, books, brochures, films and slides. Furthermore, this chapter analyses the public discussion about this material, focusing on the uses of words such as “truth”, “information” and “propaganda” in the debates.KeywordsFoetal imagesSwedish antiabortion groupsPropagandaInformationRätt till liv The Silent Scream
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This chapter examines the 1975 Nordic Council conference at Frostavallen in Sweden as a transnational media event which specifically sought to articulate a green modernity to the outside world. It argues that the Nordic countries used Frostavallen to perform and formulate a green modernity based around international cooperation and progressive solutions blending policy and technology. This performance allowed the Nordics to not only claim and legitimize environmental leadership to domestic and international audiences, but also place brand themselves as an environmentally progressive region. Facilitated by institutionalized Nordic cooperation, the conference can be regarded as the progenitor of contemporary Nordic environment and climate change campaigns, whereby the Nordic states communicate a uniform Nordic sustainable modernity to the world as a political strategy.
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In this afterword, Nicholas J. Cull ties together the chapters in Nordic Media Histories of Propaganda and Persuasion and argues that they tell a wider story of political communication, in which the Nordic region comes to express itself through a distinctive and characteristic take on global concerns. External threats emerged at several points as drivers of identity, both physical and cultural. Furthermore, Cull observes that the book shows how the strong image of the Nordic region and its component nations is the product of effort and inventive communication; its strong image and effective work has been based on a foundation of positive reality.
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The 1930s represent a pivotal period for reinventing and consolidating Norden as a distinct region, characterized by increasing inter-Nordic cooperation. This chapter examines how modern mass media, in particular radio, was combined with older communication channels, from public mass meetings to newspapers, posters and pamphlets, in successfully promoting and propagating Nordic ideas to broader segments of the population. Two interrelated transnational and transmedial events are of particular interest: The public meeting of the Scandinavian social democratic leaders in Copenhagen in 1934 and the massive and spectacular celebration of Nordic Day 27 October 1936. This manifestation of Nordic cooperation was a joint effort by the Social Democratic parties, building on a longer tradition of what was termed labour Scandinavianism and the transnational network of the Norden Associations.
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Nordic public service television organizations launched Nordvision in 1959 to organize television programme exchange and co-productions, and the network remains active today. This chapter concentrates on a period at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s when Nordvision reorganized its working practices, to trace how Nordvision developed information infrastructure that would support transnational collaboration in television. A key problem for Nordvision was how to ensure the efficient exchange of information necessary for transnational co-operation. This chapter discusses Nordvision’s efforts to develop its information infrastructure consisting of an active meeting culture, paper documents and media technologies such as telephone and video, to understand how Nordvision defined challenges relating to Nordic co-operation and attempted to solve them. Through this lens, this chapter considers how television has contributed to constructing the Nordic region, not by analysing how Nordicness was represented on television screens, but by focusing on the behind-the-scenes work of developing Nordic co-operation networks.
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This chapter examines the media production of the US Office of War Information (OWI) in Stockholm, 1942–1945. While previous research has focused on the organization of OWI and the American view on war propaganda in Scandinavia, little emphasis has been placed on the actual production and circulation of American propaganda in Sweden during World War II. Drawing on previously neglected archival material from the Civilian Security Service’s (Allmänna Säkerhetstjänsten) counter-espionage on American propaganda activities in Sweden, this chapter maps the material conditions for US propaganda and the circulation of OWI-supported media (e.g. books, magazines, films, radio and news stories) in Sweden as well as the Nordic countries in general.
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This article explores some conditions and effects of the publishing of Lennart Nilsson s photographs of embryos and fetuses in magazines and other media. It looks especially at how these images related to the abortion controversies in Sweden in the wake of the first Abortion Act in 1938 and up to the second and still current legislation in 1974. During the period Nilsson contributed photographs to anti-abortion campaigns led by prominent doctors and supported by editors in the popular press. The embryos and fetuses depicted in the images were increasingly aestheticised and their human traits emphasised. After the 1965 publication of ‘Drama of Life before Birth’ in Life magazine and A Child is Born, however, his photo essays started to express a more positive view of abortion on demand. It is suggested that these shifting strategies and visual styles can be connected to the various interests of Nilsson and his collaborators.
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summary: This article examines the 1965 first edition of Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson’s Ett barn blir till (A Child Is Born) by placing the book back in the historical context in which it was produced, marketed, and reviewed. In particular it shows how medicine and the media in Sweden were intertwined in the process of incorporating Nilsson’s photographs of aborted embryos and fetuses into a best-selling book on the origin and development of human life. Nilsson’s work is related to other books in the same genre as well as the popular picture magazines of the time, in order to highlight how it aspired to offer something new. It is argued that a number of commercial and other interests were involved and that an immense effort went into not only making and promoting the book but also trying to control the meaning of the images.
Icons of Life tells the engrossing and provocative story of an early twentieth-century undertaking, the Carnegie Institution of Washington's project to collect thousands of embryos for scientific study. Lynn M. Morgan blends social analysis, sleuthing, and humor to trace the history of specimen collecting. In the process, she illuminates how a hundred-year-old scientific endeavor continues to be felt in today's fraught arena of maternal and fetal politics. Until the embryo collecting project-which she follows from the Johns Hopkins anatomy department, through Baltimore foundling homes, and all the way to China-most people had no idea what human embryos looked like. But by the 1950s, modern citizens saw in embryos an image of "ourselves unborn," and embryology had developed a biologically based story about how we came to be. Morgan explains how dead specimens paradoxically became icons of life, how embryos were generated as social artifacts separate from pregnant women, and how a fetus thwarted Gertrude Stein's medical career. By resurrecting a nearly forgotten scientific project, Morgan sheds light on the roots of a modern origin story and raises the still controversial issue of how we decide what embryos mean.
Within the last few decades, pictures of the reproductive process of sperm meeting egg, of embryonic cell divisions, and of fetuses in various sizes and positions have become a well-established part of popular culture. No one is any longer taken by surprise to see a picture of a thumb-sucking fetus contained inside the fetal membrane, or to witness the first cell divisions of an embryo on the television screen. Science documentary photos of the reproductive process, circulating persistently in books, magazines, and films, on TV, video, and DVD, and on the Internet, have transformed gametes and embryos into pop-culture icons with a life of their own. In this chapter, we shall focus on that development, using two recent science documentary films on human reproduction as our analytical prism. The first, The Miracle of Love (2000), is a Swedish production, made by Lennart Nilsson and Bo G. Erikson Productions for Swedish TV and co-produced with a number of other European TV channels; a Japanese TV company; and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), the noncommercial U.S. public television network, via NOVA, a documentary series that originates with WBGH, the PBS station in Boston. The second film, Life's Greatest Miracle (2001), is, surprisingly enough, NOVA's own, different version of the Swedish film. In other words, we will analyze two versions of the "same" film; for, even though the two documentaries have different titles, with "love" and "life" as their respective catchwords, they should nevertheless be considered variants rather than different films. The principal name behind both is that of Nilsson, the world-famous Swedish science photographer. A significant overlap of identical imagery from this "master photographer's" camera, presenting us in two instances with epoch-making pictures of the encounter between egg and sperm and of the growth of the fetus inside the womb, makes the Swedish The Miracle of Love and the U.S. Life's Greatest Miracle variants rather than two separate works. By the 1960s, Lennart Nilsson had already earned international fame for his photo documentaries on the development of the fetus. When Life magazine ran a feature article showcasing his pictures of "life before birth" (Nilsson 1965), the eight million copies of that issue sold out in only four days.1 The article was published simultaneously in several major European magazines, including Stern, Paris Match, and the Sunday Times magazine. Since then, numerous books (in particular, Nilsson [1966] 1993), photos, and science documentary films, featuring ever more technically advanced shots of the reproductive events in the penis, the testicles and, not least, the womb, have transformed the name of Lennart Nilsson into a brand. If there is one name that is almost synonymous with the visualization of the inner microworld of human reproduction, and with the twentieth-century transformation of the womb into a public stage, it is Nilsson's. As for the relationship between Nilsson and the producers connected with NOVA, the documentary The Miracle of Life (1983) is especially important.2 It played a major role not only in boosting Nilsson's career in the United States but also in establishing NOVA as the most watched documentary series on PBS. Although it was originally broadcast nearly twenty years ago, this film, according to the NOVA section of the PBS website,3 is still rated the most popular NOVA episode of all time. To be designated the most popular NOVA episode of all time is no mean feat, considering that today NOVA is not only the most popular science series on U.S. television (and on the Web) but also the most watched science television series in the world, one seen in more than a hundred countries. The blockbuster status of The Miracle of Life may thus explain why NOVA promotes the newer film, Life's Greatest Miracle, as a remake of the 1983 The Miracle of Life, with no reference to The Miracle of Love, its 2000 Swedish precursor. It may also explain why it is one of only a handful of NOVA episodes that can be viewed free of charge online, even though it is also sold on video and DVD through the PBS online store. The popularity and iconographic status of these images of human reproduction make it important to scrutinize their constructions of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, bodies, families, and subjectivity from a feminist perspective. Many feminist researchers (for example, Martin 1991; Stabile 1992; Duden 1993; Haraway 1997; Hartouni 1997; Franklin, Lury, and Stacey 2000) have criticized the narratives of reproductive science in general, and Nilsson's photos in particular, for reproducing gender stereotypes. For years, these narratives have continued to ascribe Rambolike qual-ities to the sperm and to confer personhood on the fetus while reducing the mother to a headless container. By comparing the two versions of Nilsson's most recent film-the original Swedish version, The Miracle of Love, and Life's Greatest Miracle, produced specifically for the U.S. market-we aim to update the feminist discussion. It seems that the writer and producer for NOVA, Julia Cort, has listened to the critical voices, which have been much louder within Anglo-American feminism than in Scandinavia, where popular science and the field of science communication have not attracted much attention from feminists. At any rate, the Swedish version presents us with the traditional stereotypes, but the NOVA version of the same film, interestingly enough, has changed the story of egg, sperm, fetus, and parents-to-be in such a way that, at least to some extent, it rises to the challenge of the feminist critique.4 Nevertheless, it is likely that more than good intentions are at play in the U.S. version, which constructs gender, ethnicity, family, bodies, sexuality, and subjectivities in a more "politically correct" way than the Swedish one does. Whereas the Swedish film was produced in the context of state television and was influenced by its duty to "inform" and lecture in a "neutral" scientific-positivist way, the U.S. television industry's market orientation, with its insatiable demands for something "new" and "entertaining" to attract viewers, has left clear traces on the work of the writer, Julia Cort, and the editor, Dick Bartlett. Life's Greatest Miracle does not instruct by lecturing; rather, it informs by entertaining: it provides "edutainment." The view at NOVA is that a science documentary should be "as entertaining as it is informative."5 Edutainment involves the interpellation of the figure of an "anybody and everybody" couple to match the film's target audience. The couple should be neither too rich nor too poor, not too distinctively ethnic, neither too young nor too old, neither too feminine nor too masculine, neither too hetero nor too homo (after all, we must be able to believe that the partners did make a child together). Ideally, the couple should be a multicultural hybrid that includes something multisocial, multiethnic, and multigendered-in other words, a perfectly average American couple, whose ideality lies in the partners' ability to erase differences and thereby signal the kind of liberal multiculturalism analyzed by Haraway (1997: 259ff.). In the editing, much thought was given to how this hybridity would be realized in the figures of identification that the film offers its viewers. Undoubtedly, the edutainment perspective was also on the minds of the Swedish producers, but it is much more integrated and considered in the U.S. version. In order to illustrate our points regarding the possible effects of the feminist critique and the significance of the market orientation, we shall take a closer look at how the story of egg, sperm, embryos, fetuses, and parents is told in the two versions of the film. Our analysis is based on a close reading. We begin with a discussion of the similarities between the two versions and then proceed to the differences. First, however, we will briefly introduce the theoretical tradition into which our analysis is embedded: feminist cultural studies of technoscience. © 2008 by The University of Washington Press. All rights reserved.
Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio offers a refreshing portrait of an era when the public excitedly anticipated medical progress and research breakthroughs. This unique study with 130 archival illustrations drawn from newspaper sketches, caricatures, comic books, Hollywood films, and LIFE magazine photography analyzes the relationship between mass media images and popular attitudes. Bert Hansen considers the impact these representations had on public attitudes and shows how media portrayal and popular support for medical research grew together and reinforced each other.
In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf described fictions as 'grossly material things', rooted in their physical and economic contexts. This book takes Woolf's brief hint as its starting point, asking who made the books of the English Renaissance, and what the material circumstances were in which they did so. It charts a new history of making and use, recovering the ways in which women shaped and altered the books of this crucial period, as co-authors, editors, translators, patrons, printers, booksellers, and readers. Drawing on evidence from a wide range of sources, including court records, letters, diaries, medical texts, and the books themselves, this book moves between the realms of manuscript and print, and tells the stories of literary, political, and religious texts from broadside ballads to plays, monstrous birth pamphlets to editions of the bible. In uncovering the neglected history of women's textual labours, and the places and spaces in which women went about the business of making, the book offers a new perspective on the history of books and reading. Where Woolf believed that Shakespeare's sister, had she existed, would have had no opportunity to pursue a literary career, the book paints a compelling picture of Judith Shakespeare's varied job prospects, and promises to reshape our understanding of gendered authorship in the English Renaissance.
summary: Communication should be central to histories of reproduction, because it has structured how people do and do not reproduce. Yet communication has been so pervasive, and so various, that it is often taken for granted and the historical specificities overlooked. Making communication a frame for histories of reproduction can draw a fragmented field together, including by putting the promotion of esoteric ideas on a par with other practical activities. Paying communication close attention can revitalize the history of reproduction over the long term by highlighting continuities as well as the complex connections between new technologies and new approaches. Themes such as the power of storytelling, the claiming and challenging of expertise, and relations between knowledge and ignorance, secrecy and propriety also invite further study.