Identikit | Letizia Battaglia: a life against the mafia

“I conquered my independence with my camera.”

This is what inspired Letizia Battaglia to embark on her career as a photojournalist. Born in 1935 in Palermo, in a rough and patriarchal environment, Letizia found in photography a way of escape, even to “conjugal and social” independence.

The same path that, with her career now underway, led her to the victory of various awards. She was the first European woman to receive the Eugene Smith Grant in 1985, ex aequo with the American Donna Ferrato. Besides, she was selected by New York Times among the great characters of 2017.

Two kids having fun despite the violence of mafia in Palermo. A photo by Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia was a journalist for the Italian periodic L’Ora in Palermo. Later, she moved to Milan and realized that writing was not enough to twist her career. After separating from her husband, she began to take photographs to make a living at a very young age.

The love for this job blossomed when she returned to her beloved Palermo. Here, she started to embrace and appreciate the history of photography and other contemporary photographers. Her collaboration with the Palermitan periodic L’Ora launched her career as a photojournalist.

Letizia testified the force of violence, destruction, and pain that the mafia leaves behind each strike through her camera and her spirit of denouncement.

At that time Palermo was a theater of a civil war. A conflict between the mafia and the Italian state, involving defenseless citizens. Letizia became famous thanks to her shots that portrayed the victims along with the characters of the mafia reality. She used to take snaps soon after an incident: a murder, an attack, a settling of scores. She managed to capture photos of five murders a day.

Her photographs may be historical, but they have also told the truth with compassion.

Mafia can't beat a kid's innocence. Letizia Battaglia is a famous Italian photojournalist. Her photography denounces the mafia in Palermo from '60s to early '80s.

And they did it closely. From the privileged point of view of those who were present, who were there and saw everything. Among the passers-by that gathered around the victim, not to help, but only to browse. Letizia testified the force of violence, destruction, and pain that the mafia leaves behind each strike. Through her camera and her spirit of denouncement, Letizia is a witness to the Italian Anni di Piombo in her city, the Mafia war, the murders of Peppino Impastato and Piersanti Mattarella

Letizia Battaglia is a famous Italian photojournalist. Her photography denounces the mafia in Palermo from '60s to early '80s.

Letizia‘s photos are cruel, but they are essential for the history of our country: such as the one that portrays Andreotti while he deals with members of mafia clans at the Hotel Zagarella. Letizia portrays the faces of her fellow citizens, ordinary people, especially of women and children who, at that time, carried the weight of the pain of living in that world. Despite the intimidations from the Italian periodic L’Ora, and the killing of three of its leading journalists (Cosimo Cristina, Giovanni Spampinato, and Mauro de Mauro, who mysteriously disappeared), Letizia Battaglia in 1979 set up an exhibition to expose her mafia victims pictures in a square of Corleone town, to show that the mafia affects indiscriminately.

“Photography helps illustrate my vision and the world I live in.”

She never looked for the perfect shot, nor the most suitable light. The photographic technique is not her prerogative. Letizia goes in search of emotions, stories, dreams that emerge from the eyes of the subjects she portrays (mostly women and girls). Because of that, her photos are all shot in crisp black and white.

Her activity as a photojournalist ended after the assassination of Judge Falcone (1992), as she was tired of the violence that by now had completely crossed her. She lived through those years with too much “pain and shame“. For Letizia, the type of mafia she reported, that of “blood in the streets“, is no longer among us. Today’s mafia is different, it has moved to the upper floors.


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