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child with a gun in Palermo, Letizia Battaglia 1982
Child with a gun in Palermo © Letizia Battaglia 1982 | Image source internet

Letizia Battaglia

I was bare-handed, except for my camera, against them (mafia) with all of their weapons.

– Letizia Battaglia

Letizia Battaglia (born 1935) is an Italian photojournalist. Although her photos document a wide spectrum of Sicilian life, she is best known for her work on the Mafia. Letizia depicted the grim reality of the mafia, forcing Italian authorities to act.

Battaglia was born in Palermo, Sicily. Married at 16, she took up photojournalism after her divorce in 1971, while raising three daughters. She picked up a camera when she found that she could better sell her articles if they were accompanied by photographs and slowly discovered a passion for photography. In 1974, after a period in Milan during which she met her long-time partner Franco Zecchin, she returned to Sicily to work for the left-wing L’Ora newspaper in Palermo until it was forced to close in 1992.

Battaglia took some 600,000 images as she covered the territory for the paper. She documented the ferocious internal war of the Mafia, and its assault on civil society. She sometimes found herself at the scene of four or five different murders in a single day. Battaglia and Zecchin produced many of the iconic images that have come to represent Sicily and the Mafia beyond Italy.

Battaglia also became involved in women’s and environmental issues. For several years she stopped taking pictures and officially entered the world of politics. From 1985 to 1991 she held a seat on the Palermo city council for the Green Party, from 1991 to 1996 she was a Deputy at the Sicilian Regional Assembly for The Network. She was instrumental in saving and reviving the historic center of Palermo. For a time she ran a publishing house, Edizioni della Battaglia, and co-founded a monthly journal for women, Mezzocielo. She is involved in working for the rights of women and, most recently, prisoners.

In 1993, when prosecutors in Palermo indicted Giulio Andreotti, who had been prime minister of Italy seven times, the police searched Battaglia’s archives and found two 1979 photographs of Andreotti with an important Mafioso, Nino Salvo, he had denied knowing. Aside from the accounts of turncoats, these pictures were the only physical evidence of this powerful politician’s connections to the Sicilian Mafia. Battaglia herself had forgotten having taken the photograph. Its potential significance was apparent only 15 years after it was taken.

In 1985 she received the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography. In 1999 she received the Photography Lifetime Achievement of the Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography. In 2007 she received the Dr. Erich Salomon Award, a ‘lifetime achievement’ award of the German Society for Photography (DGPh). In 2009, she was given the Cornell Capa Infinity Award by the International Center of Photography.

In 2005, she appeared in the documentary Excellent Cadavers based on the 1995 book by Alexander Stille. Battaglia plays the role of survivor and passionate eyewitness. Battaglia has a cameo appearance in the 2008 Wim Wenders film Palermo Shooting as a photographer.

A documentary film based on her life, Shooting the Mafia, was released in 2019.

Published on March 14, 2021
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