The photographer Letizia Battaglia. Credit: Shobha/IMS Disclosure
The photographer Letizia Battaglia. Credit: Shobha/IMS Disclosure

Letizia Battaglia, 87-year-old, the first photojournalist in Italy to cover police news, died. It can be said that the Italian photographer was a symbol not only of the struggle against the Mafia, but also of the refined use of photography as an instrument of this struggle. “I was born in times of peace, but then came the war. My father was a sailor and I spent my childhood traveling around Italy, dodging bombs, from Civitavecchia in Trieste to Naples. I returned to Sicily when I was ten years old,” Battaglia said. To escape parental authority, she married at 16, the marriage, however, doing little for her freedom. At age 36, she made the decision to leave her husband and left for Milan, taking two of her three teenage daughters with her. From the need to make her own and support her daughters, she started taking pictures. In Milan, she was a correspondent for the Palermo L'Ora, for which she returned to the capital of the Sicilian region in order to organize her photojournalism team.

“We were the newspaper: in one afternoon we could photograph the coronation of a beauty queen, a collapsed house and a murder. Our field of action was the life of a city – a sad, wild and also joyful city”, said Battaglia in an interview with Giovanna Calvenzi, for Aperture.

Judge Roberto Scarpinato with his bodyguards, on top of the Palermo courthouse, 1998. Letizia Battaglia/IMS Disclosure.
Judge Roberto Scarpinato with his bodyguards, on top of the Palermo courthouse, 1998. Letizia Battaglia/IMS Disclosure.

His denunciation of the Mafia, the most recognized part of his work, intensified after the murder of leftist activist Giuseppe Impastato in 1979. Battaglia began to organize exhibitions with these records and toured Sicily with them. On one occasion, she recounted, an entire square emptied out in a matter of two minutes after they realized that among the images was Luciano Liggio prison, head of the Mafia, as captured by the photographer. "People were terrified that one day they might be identified as accomplices in our photographs."

Years later, Battaglia was the recipient of the 1985 W. Eugene Smith Award. With the recognition of her work came a demand for more: “[The award] it was the turn. I understood that I should do more. It wasn't enough just to photograph”.

She joined the emerging Verdi, ran for office and was voted on as a member of the city council. The mayor of Palermo at the time was Catholic Democrat Leoluca Orlando, who fought a fierce battle against corruption within his party. “For four years I dedicated myself to the city. And from her I received love and gratitude. Those were the best years of my life,” she wrote.

Children play with guns. Palermo, 1986. Credit: Letizia Battaglia/IMS Disclosure
Children play with guns. Palermo, 1986. Credit: Letizia Battaglia/IMS Disclosure

“It's not easy to understand – living in a city dominated by the mafia means having it in your home, in every family. Your children's teacher, your downstairs neighbor, your brother. Anyone can be involved – and you don't know it. We are just beginning to know who the big bosses are. And that's why it's so important to be there – to love being there. I consider myself absolutely fortunate to be able to live this experience of resistance to injustice.”

When, in 1989, L'Ora's photographic service changed hands, its new leadership was reluctant to hire a photographer with such a strong political role. Dedicated to public life and unwilling to be a photographer only in her spare time, Battaglia stopped shooting for a while. In the following years, she was a member of the Sicilian Regional Assembly and dedicated herself to publishing the magazines grandvu (with an important role for the Sicilian counterculture movements) and mezzocielo (dedicated to women's work). In addition, she founded the publishing house Edizioni della Battaglia, centered on poetry, literature and essays linked to the Sicilian region.

In 2016, he created the Palermo International Photography Center to house the city's photographic archive.

Leave a comment

Please write a comment
Please write your name