Colouring the Human Landscapes

Lennart Nilsson and the Spectacular World of Scanning Electron Micrographs

In: Nuncius
Solveig Jülich Department of History of Science and Ideas, Uppsala University, Sweden

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This article explores the relationship between Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson’s scanning electron micrographs and commercial culture from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. By retracing how Nilsson’s micrographs of the internal structures of the human body were made, circulated, and received, its aim is to investigate three aspects of this relationship. First, it highlights how the complex and sometimes conflicting interplay between the photographer and various actors in science, industry and the media shaped the pictures and their trajectories. Second, it analyses the processes used to colour Nilsson’s original black-and-white micrographs in relation to tendencies in the media and the advertising industry during this period. Third, it examines what motivated Nilsson and his collaborators in their use of colour and also the critical debates concerning the spectacular and commercial qualities of his pictures. In the concluding section, the implications of this analysis for the history of the objectivity of scientific images is discussed.

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