Greek photographer, Elli Souyioultzoglou-Seraidari (Έλλη Σουγιουλτζόγλου-Σεραϊδάρη ) who went by her professional name of Nelly’s was described by the Greek Minister of Culture, Evangelos Venizelos, at the time of her public funeral, as ”a mythical figure, with a prominent position in the cultural panorama of our century.”
Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari, better known as Nelly’s, was a Greek female photographer whose pictures of ancient Greek temples set against sea and sky backgrounds helped shaped the visual image of Greece in the Western mind. There has been some confusion over how exactly she should be referred to. She adopted the diminutive “Nelly” for her professional society portrait work, and its genitive, “Nelly’s”, was incorporated in her decorative studio stamp, but at no time did she refer to herself as Nelly’s; that version of her name was popularised by newspapers at the time of her rediscovery in the 1980s. She is now increasingly referred to, more correctly, as “Elli Seraidari”.
She owed her pictorial technique and her classical sense of aesthetics to the influence of her German teachers, Hugo Erfurth and Franz Fiedler. However, in 1924, after establishing herself in Athens and opening a photography studio in Ermou Street, she adopted a more Greek-centred and conservative approach to her work.
An early interest in portraiture, maintained throughout her professional career in Greece and the USA, provides us with rare pictures of interwar Athenian society, as well as an important source of information on America’s Greek immigrants.
From 1927 until the outbreak of World War II, Nelly’s travelled throughout Greece, documenting the entire panorama of Greek life. As a Diaspora Greek, Nelly’s view of Greece tended to be somewhat “idealised”. Her photographs appeared in official tourist publications that were circulated abroad, and contributed to creating the earliest visual symbols of Greece’s “philosophy regarding tourism”.
She systematically depicted the ancient monuments and archaeological sites of Greece. Her experiments with natural light and her photographs of ancient temples, demonstrating their interrelationship, are true masterpieces, bringing to mind the work of Erfurth’s German student, Walter Hege. Nelly’s photographs of dancers in Germany and, above all, on the Acropolis (1923-29) demonstrate exceptional thematic cohesion and identify her as one of the leading dance photographers of the interwar period.
Having gone into self-imposed exile in the USA following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, she added advertising photography, colour photography and photo reporting (New York streets & Easter Parade) to her range of skills, although she was not overly influenced by the trends of contemporary American photography. Nelly’s died in Athens, after a lifetime of passionate dedication to her art. She left a body of work, which remains exemplary from both an artistic and a technical standpoint; it represents a valuable legacy to the photographers of today.