Nikolaos Tombazis (1894-1986)

Nikolaos Tombazis was born in 1894 at the Greek embassy in St. Petersburg. His father, however, registered him in the municipality of Hydra, the family’s ancestral home. As a child, he was drawn to nature and particularly to the mountains.

His first camera, a Box Brownie No 2, accompanied him to Greece’s archaeological sites and its mountains, which he climbed when he was 16. His first photographs, dating from 1912 to 1916, were gathered into a handcrafted portfolio entitled "Greece—Travels 1912–1916".

At the age of 18, he was hired by the Rallis Brothers Company and sent to India as a trading agent. For the next 30 years he applied himself to photography, as well as to mountain climbing, fishing and breeding pedigree dogs. He was familiar with most of the Himalayan peaks, as well as the Swiss Alps, where he would spend his holidays and which he photographed extensively. In 1925 he organised a mountain climbing expedition to Mount Sikkim in the Himalayas, which resulted in the publication of his "Account of a Photographic Expedition to the Southern Glaciers of Kangchenjunga in the Sikkim Himalaya". He became a member of the Royal Photographic Society in London and treasurer of the Photographic Society of Calcutta. While in India, he organised two photography exhibits in Calcutta and one in Karachi. The birth of his children provided him with another beloved and tender subject for his camera.

In 1945, he received a pension from the Rallis Brothers and returned to Greece, where he became a professional photographer. In 1950, he began working mainly as an archaeological photographer. In collaboration with the Archaeological Society he recorded the excavations by the archaeologists Takis Theocharis at the Askitario site at Rafina and Ioannis Papadimitriou at Brauron and Merenta. His detailed record of the excavation process and documentation of the findings established him as one of the best photographers in the field.

At the same time he photographed the landscapes and rural dwellers of the Greek countryside, endowing future generations with valuable historical evidence about features of the land and people’s daily life. His love of the Greek landscape and monuments -ancient and Byzantine- ensured him a permanent collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism. His photographs illustrated archaeological publications and, during the 1950’s, were published in tourism brochures and guides.

Of great interest, for both its artistic excellence as well as its documentary value, is his series of photographs of Mount Athos, which he visited in 1962. Tombazis systematically recorded the architecture of the monasteries, the art treasures and daily life of the monks in the Athos community. Some of the Mount Athos photographs were exhibited in 1962 at the British Council, entitled "Nikolaos Tombazis: An exhibition of Photographs of Mount Athos". 

The archive, which numbers approximately 30,000 negatives and a great many original exhibition prints, is fully organised in handcrafted albums and attractive boxes and reflects the affection and artistic temperament of a cosmopolitan, and -why not- aristocratic photographer. Nikolaos Tombazis was awarded the distinction of becoming a member of the Fédération de l’Art Photographique of Switzerland. In 1997, his descendants donated his archive to the Benaki Museum’s Photographic Archives.