Nelly Sougioultzoglou is born in Aidini of Asia Minor, in 1899. In 1912 she finds herself a pupil at the Omirio Girl’s School of Smyrni and in 1919 she lives through the destruction of her homeland by the Turks. The daughter of the wealthy merchant Christos Sougioultzoglou then leaves for Dresden to study music and painting. In 1922 her family settles in Athens and Nelly decides to study photography, hoping to make a living out of it. Her teacher is initially the well-known Hugo Erfurt. Later she is tutored by the modernist Franz Fiedler.
Miss Sougioultzoglou returns to Greece in 1924 and opens her first photo studio in Ermou St. The city’s bourgeoisie considers it a sign of fine taste to have their portraits done by the young artist who at the same time practices her art by taking pictures of ancient monuments and small yards of Athenian houses. It is thus that Nelly’s era begins.
Nelly’s focuses on the pure orders of the Acropolis monuments that fascinate her. She soon decides to give them a face and set them in motion. She meets Mona Paiva, the Comedie Francaise dancer, and suggests to her that it would be a good idea if she could pose for her in the nude on the holy rock. Permission is granted by the authorities as she is by then well known and accepted by the Athens high society. Paiva obliges, and starts to dance inside the Parthenon holding an olive branch. The Leica of Nelly’s captures her smooth motion, creating a series of unique shots. The dancer takes with her this exceptional piece of work, which will be published a little later in a French illustrated magazine. The scandal breaks out immediately in prudish Athenian society.Her avant-garde pictures of nude Mona Paeva on the Parthenon were published at the French magazine Illustration de Paris and caused a scandal in the small city of Athens of that time. She was defended by Pavlos Nirvanas in his column in Elefthero Vima newspaper (May 1929). he wrote, »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… »
Since her studies and her nudes at Fiedler’s studio in Germany, Nelly removed the background’s elements by focusing her attention on the theme, resulting in reversing voluntarily the references of orientation and the final image to be formed as a mix of realistic and abstract types.
In that way, she managed to incorporate the spectator’s wonder as an element of the image. Knowing that she is the one directing the spectator’s gaze through the lens of the camera and that he will identify with her position, she accentuated the wonder by giving viewers the chance to read the image in a double way in relation to the earth’s horizon.
Her classical education and admiration of Ancient Greek civilization contributed to her photographic work in Acropolis in a way that the latter has become decisive for the artist and also for the history of photography and architecturel.
In her portraits Nelly’s uses artificial light, leaving one part of the form in the dark, while the background remains empty, as a reference to the Great Masters of the Renaissance. The aim of this work was the search for the spiritual element, the poetic atmosphere and the demonstration of the form’s most profound essence.
During World War II, she went to the United States, where she stayed for 27 years and The Metropolitan Museum of New York bought a large series of her Acropolis photographs.
In 1966 she returned to Greece and presented her work in numerous exhibitions, with the last being Nelly’s: The Body, the Light and Ancient Greece, the official Greek participation in the Cultural Olympiad of Barcelona in 1992.