Nelly’s – the Greek Leni Riefenstahl?

Day 103 of Colourisation Project – August 18

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

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.”

Nelly’s passed away on this day, August 18, 1998 at the age of 99.  She was  recognised internationally as a major figure in photography and an important woman in Greek cultural history.


Photographer: Hugo Erfurth –  Nelly’s 1922 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Nelly’s was born into a prominent family in 1899 in Aidin of the old Ottoman Empire, a town with a majority Greek community. With the Turkish conquest of Aidin, Nelly’s family was forced to escape to Smyrna in 1919.

Nelly’s went to study photography in Dresden, Germany under the great classic photographers, Hugo Erfurth and Franz Fiedler in 1920. Under their tutelage, she was initiated into the new approach in photography, the New Objectivity movement before the collapse of the Weimar republic.

In 1922 with the expulsion of the ethnic Greeks of Asia Minor by the Turks, her family was again forced to flee, this time to Greece. In 1924 following her studies in Germany, Nelly’s joined them on mainland Greece and in the same year opened her first photography studio at Ermou Street in Athens.

Her style soon took on a naive Hellenocentric and conservative approach which aligned with that of the Greek state’s need to produce an ideal view of the country and its people for both national and touristic purposes. Nelly’s was appointed official photographer of the newly established Greek Ministry of Tourism. Her photographs documenting the countryside and Greek life were nothing short of idyllic and appeared in official tourist publications abroad.

Her adulation for Greece extended from the ancient world to contemporary Greece. Being forced into exile from her home land, which once used to be under the dominance of Alexander the Great, was perhaps an impetus to developing a strong classical sense of aesthetics reminiscent of Greece’s glory days as seen in her photographs of dancers on the Acropolis between 1923-1929.

Her best known portraits are of nudes against the background of the Athenian Acropolis. Nelly’s managed to cause a scandal in Athens with her avant-garde images of the nude Mona Paeva, (the well known Prima Ballerina of the Opera Comique) on the Parthenon which were published in the French magazine Illustration de Paris. The famous Greek poet and writer, Pavlos Nirvanas came to her defence in his column in the Elefthero Vima newspaper.

From 1927 to 1939 Nelly’s travelled throughout Greece capturing images of Greek life. She photographed the Delphi Festival in 1927 and 1930, and districts of old Athens as well as  ancient monuments and archaeological sites of Greece.

After 1936 her collaboration with the authoritarian Metaxas regime earned her the title of the Greek Leni Riefenstahl. Metaxas’ vision for Greece was to create, through the youth, the ‘Third Hellenic Civilization’, a continuity of ancient Greek and Byzantine civilization. Congruent with Nelly’s own vision, she became one of Greece’s most prolific and prominent photographers.

In 1936, Nelly’s photographed the Berlin Olympic Games. Here she met the renowned German film-maker, Leni Riefenstahl and accompanied her to Olympia to assist in the filming of  the Nazi funded propaganda film, Olympia, a paean to the Third Reich.

At the outbreak of the Second world War, Nelly’s and her husband, the pianist Angelos Seraidaris (they were married in 1929), left for New York, where she stayed for the next 27 years. She opened a studio on 57th Street and once again found herself in a new place. An ardent lover of Hellenism, she organised exhibitions of her early photos of Greece and interwar Athenian society.

By 1966 Nelly’s had given up photography and returned permanently to Greece though she continued to present her work in numerous exhibitions, the last being Nelly’s: The Body, the Light and Ancient Greece, the official Greek participation in the Cultural Olympiad of Barcelona in 1992.

Whilst The Metropolitan Museum of New York bought a large series of her Acropolis photographs, Nelly’s left an exemplary body of work, that has become one of the most recognized series of photographs in the history of photography in Greece. From both an artistic and a technical viewpoint this represents a valuable legacy to photography.

In 1985 Nelly’s donated her photo archives and cameras to the Benaki Museum in Athens. Two years later and nearly 70 years after starting her career in photography, Nelly’s was presented with an honorary diploma and medal by the Hellenic Centre of Photography and the Greek government.

In 1993, she was awarded the Order of the Phoenix by the president of the Greek Republic and in 1996, the Athens Academy presented her with its Arts and Letters Award.

Nelly’s died peacefully in her sleep at her home in Athens, Greece, on August 18, 1998, aged 99.


”I imagine on the one hand, the beautiful priestess, unfastening her girdle in front of Apollo, throwing all the robes covering her divine nudity and bathing in the light, a body like a statue and a rosy complexion like the smile of dawn. And on the other hand I see respectable gentlemen sitting around a table, scratching their heads and writing about desecration. Desecration would occur if, in the throes of archaeological enthusiasm, they happened to throw off their clothes on the Parthenon marbles and pretended to be Hermes of Praxiteles…”  Pavlos Nirvanas in defence of Nelly’s Acropolis photos

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2 Responses to Nelly’s – the Greek Leni Riefenstahl?

  1. great article…why put an apostrophe in her name…was it not just Nellys?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loredana Isabella Crupi says:

    Ahh, the enigmatic apostrophe!

    Her real name was Elli but she always signed off with her professional name “Nelly’s”. She died in 1998 without revealing the meaning of the apostrophe.

    The book, “Camera Graeca – Photographs, Narratives, Materialities” claims that “some authors argue that she intentionally adopted the signature ‘Nelly’s’ to replicate the standard of Byzantine icon-painters who signed with their name in the genitive case to indicate that the ‘writing’ of the icon was by their own hand”

    But like you, I do find it distracting!



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