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Twenty-five years after the death of the photographer Elli Souyoultzoglou-Seraidaris (1899-1998), known as Nelly’s, the Benaki Museum, where her valuable work has been kept since 1984, reintroduces the creator to the modern public with the retrospective exhibition “Nelly’s”, which was inaugurated tonight in Benaki, Piraeus by the President of the Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

PtD launched the “Nelly’s” retrospective:

Of a woman who took up an art, which in the first decades of the 20th century was considered to be exclusively male, and served it with boldness and inspirationsaid the President of the Republic.

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The impressive range of her subject matter, the use of new techniques and media that would better render her vision, her experiments with color photography, give the measure of a restless creator who sought to constantly expand her horizons. Merging knowledge and experience to convey the interiority of her models, she gave us the famous series of nude or semi-nude dance photographs she took on the Acropolis, capturing in an exquisite way the freedom and grace of movement; the portraits of well-known Athenians and expatriates she created here and in America, through which a very important archive of Athenian society and the Greek community is constituted; the series “Parallels”, in which he attempted to compare portraits of shepherds and maidens of the Greek countryside with ancient Greek sculptures. She photographed refugees shortly after their arrival in Greece, sensitive to their pain, being a refugee herself. He depicted humble, folk districts of the capital, villages, island settlements with lyrical austerity. He gave us an amazing set of photographs of ancient temples, monuments and archaeological sites, copies of which adorn the Presidential Palace. In them, the light converses with the marble volumes, highlighting their lightness in the Greek landscape, but also the imposing presence of them “which covers us all”, to use a phrase of Giorgos Seferis from his dialogue with Konstantinos Tsatsos. Her ability to convey the energy and uniqueness of the spaces, which she captured with her lens, is also evident in the unity of her architectural, as we might call them, photographs from New York».

Expressing in the most characteristic way an idea of ​​Greekness dominant during the 1930s, the utilization, that is, and the highlighting of the deepest and time-unchanged elements of the Greek individuality, Nelly’s set in its own, completely recognizable way, the question of the balance of modernity and tradition. In her work, the past loses its rigid solidity as it is renewed, transformed and recreated in a present that always takes precedence. Her references to the classical tradition are constant but never static. Bridging the dimension of historical and aesthetic elements, her “Greek-centric” work simultaneously expresses eternity and transience, essence and transformation. I think this is the importance of her contribution, beyond the artistic and documentary value of her images: that she drew from the archetypal matrix of Hellenism to create a fully alive, complex, and emphatically rooted in the present photographic work.

I would like to congratulate the Benaki museum that today, 25 years after Nelly’s death, reintroduces her to the modern public, creatively tracing the rich, free and restless artistic journey of this classical and at the same time modern Greek and European photographer“, said the President of the Republic in her greeting.

The exhibition

The first photograph of Nellie that comes to mind is the iconic Russian dancer Elizabeta Nikolska, who captures her naked in cobwebbed veils at the moment of a jump while hovering in front of the columns of the Parthenon, in 1930. It is not the only photograph of Nellie that cut the breath of conservative Athens in the interwar period. It was preceded by that of the prima ballerina Mona Paeva, completely naked, in restrained dance movements among the antiquities of the Acropolis, causing a deep disturbance in 1925, to the point that they spoke of a provocative desecration of the sacred monument. And if Pavlos Nirvanas did not defend the photographer in his article with the argument that the naked body was praised by the ancient Greeks, the issue would not settle.

The dance photographs and nude studies she produced during her photographic studies in Dresden are one of the many aspects of her work that the exhibition at the Benaki Museum reveals. The breadth of the genius photographer is based on the three cities in which she formed her photographic vision: Dresden, Athens, New York. With almost 350 photographs, selected from her voluminous archive (it includes 50 thousand negatives), the different aesthetic trends she adopted and areas she dealt with during her forty-five years of working with the medium, as well as her experimentation in photography techniques, are represented.

The dynamic Nelli, a refugee from Aydin, Asia Minor, after completing her studies in Germany where she met her future husband, pianist Angelos Seraidaris, came to Greece for the first time in 1924 and opened a photography studio in Ermou with her brother , where the Athenian bourgeoisie, artists, and intellectuals passed through. Alongside the art of portraiture, he exclusively photographed the Delphic Festivals of the 1930s and later, in the mid-thirties, he collaborated with the Ministry of Press and Tourism, traveling around Greece and photographing the Greek countryside, traditional settlements and residents. In 1936 he attended the Olympic games in Berlin taking pictures from the stands, he photographed kings and princes. In 1939 she left with her husband to New York and managed to establish herself in the photographic portrait field.

Among the photographs of the American period stand out portraits of foreign actors, the social life of the Greek village, but also the skyscrapers that she photographed fascinated by their enormous volumes and their modern form. She returned permanently to Greece in 1966.

“Nelli was simple and visionary, without a trace of conceit, she understood the world simply but gave it spiritual depth under bold perspectives. She photographed the Caryatids like the girls next door, with their hair held low on their necks as if they were being tamed by the breeze of Attica” welcomed the exhibition the journalist Maria Karavia, who met Nelli in Metapolitevisi and wrote several times about her work in Kathimerini , at the prompting of Eleni Vlachos.

The exhibition at the Benaki Museum is curated by Aliki Tsirgialou, in charge of the Photographic Archives of the Benaki Museum, and designed by the architect Natalia Boura. It will last until 7/23

The exhibition coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Photographic Archives of the Benaki Museum. It is dedicated to Angelos Delivorias and Emilia Geroulanou, granddaughter of Antonis Benakis, to whom belongs the idea of ​​creating, in 1973, a separate department at the Foundation, dedicated to the gathering, preservation and promotion of the until then neglected photographic heritage. A milestone in the development of the department was the donation of Voula Papaioannou’s archive and later, Nelly’s.