How the Life Begins: Famous Photograph by Lennart Nilsson

“How the Life Begins” is a famous photograph taken by Lennart Nilsson. It was published on the cover of the Life magazine in 1965. Learn the story of this iconic photograph.

Today’s famous photograph gives us some insight in the development of human fetus inside the womb. This photograph was published on the cover page of April 30, 1965 edition of the Life magazine. The magazine had published 16 photographs of the beginning of human life on 16 pages.

These photographs were shot by a Swedish scientist named Lennart Nilsson. He had began to experiments with photographing blood vessels and body cavities in early 1960s. But Nilsson shot to international fame after he managed to capture in vivo images of human fetus development. In vivo means that the images were captured in natural existence of the embryo. These images were among the very first clear images of how a human fetus develops into a baby.

This is how the life begins! Photograph by Lennart Nilsson.

This is how the life begins! Photograph by Lennart Nilsson.

The issue of Life magazine that published these photographs sold 8 million copies in just four days. This demonstrates how curious people had been to know about life before birth. The 16 photographs published in the magazine were reproduced from Nilsson’s book “A Child is Born” (published in 1965). Some of these photographs were also placed on Voyager spacecrafts. Voyager 1 and 2 are space probes that were launched in 1977 to explore the space outside the solar system. Important and representative material of mankind was placed on these spacecrafts so that if the spacecrafts reach another intelligent life form in space —they could deliver this information about human beings. I have written about another famous photograph that was placed on Voyager. It is The Tetons and the Snake River by Ansel Adams.

Do you know that Voyager 1 is the farthest man-made object from Earth? Voyager 1 is on the course of exiting our solar system.

Cover of Life Magazine showing photograph "How the Life Begins" by Lennart Nilsson.

Cover of Life Magazine showing photograph “How the Life Begins” by Lennart Nilsson.

Well, the photograph that you see here is that of an aborted fetus. This photograph was widely used by the pro-life (right-to-life) activists around the world. In order to photograph as many stages of life before birth as possible, Nilsson used fetus inside the womb, extrautirine pregnancies and also the aborted fetus.

Nilsson’s photographs are often used in debates about abortion. One of the key questions that directs these debates is when the life actually begins (meaning at which stage of development the human embryo could be called alive). Nilsson himself did not give any conclusive answer to this question but nevertheless his photographs gave us the portraits of life before birth.

How did you like this photographs and the story behind it? Please comment and give your feedback as it helps me in writing better content for my readers. Thank you for reading and stay connected with my website as I will continue to bring even more iconic photographs to you.

Lalit Kumar is a web explorer and founder of He loves finding useful things on Internet and knows how to put them together to create a bigger solution. He is passionate about technology, languages and literature. Sign-up for email newsletter for receiving technology tips.


  1. Kavita says

    Wow, wow wow……..Lalitji

    This write-up too apt. to gain each n every information about aborted fetus.

    I'm impressed with the selection of this photograph :]

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