In the 1950s, photojournalist Lennart Nilsson set out to capture the earliest stages of existence.
In April 1965, Life magazine put a photograph called Foetus 18 Weeks on its cover and caused a sensation.
The issue was a spectacular success, the fastest-selling copy in Life’s entire history. In crystal clear detail, the picture showed a foetus in its amniotic sac, with its umbilical cord winding off to the placenta.
The unborn child, floating in a seemingly cosmic backdrop, appears vulnerable yet serene. Its eyes are closed and its tiny, perfectly formed fists are clutched to its chest.
Capturing that most universal of subjects, our own creation, Foetus 18 Weeks was one of the 20th century’s great photographs, as emotive as it was technically impressive, even by today’s standards.
And its impact was enormous, growing into something its creator struggled to control, as the image was hijacked by the fledgling anti-abortion movement.
Foetus 18 Weeks was taken by Lennart Nilsson, part of an astonishing series of prenatal pictures by this visionary Swedish photojournalist. His groundbreaking pictures have now reached a whole new generation, having just been shown at the Paris Photo art fair, the first time they have ever been exhibited outside Sweden.