Italy: Famous anti-mafia photographer Letizia Battaglia dies at 87

Sicilian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia died at the age of 87 on the evening of Wednesday April 13, in her hometown of Palermo. His photographic work on Cosa Nostra has won several prizes and made him known all over the world.

She was one of the first female photojournalists in Italy. Photographer for the Palermitan communist daily L’Ora, she documented for nearly 20 years the crimes of the Mafia committed on Sicilian soil.

His black-and-white photos of bodies riddled with bullets in broad daylight in the heart of Palermo were gripping prosecution testimonies of mafia violence that plagued Sicily in the 1970s and into the 1990s.

“There could be up to five murders a day. The work was exhausting but we could not sit idly by, with our little mafia on our little island (…) We had to bear witness to this violence and the whole world had to know,” she told AFP. AFP in 2006, on the occasion of an exhibition of his photos in Rome. She added that even though those bloody years were now over, Cosa Nostra was still beautiful and present.

His photographic work was also crossed by a more social dimension, in particular by denouncing the poverty which was rampant in Sicily. The photo below is one of his iconic shots from 1978 which shows a mother and her children lying in the same bed in a Palermo accommodation where there is no electricity or running water.

She was also very interested in the condition of children and women on her island. The photo below shows a young girl doing the dishes in a café, in Monreale, in 1979. Letizia Battaglia clarified in the caption that this young girl never had the chance to go to school, unlike other girls her age.

In 1985, his photographic work on the Mafia and its effects on Sicilian society was awarded the prestigious Eugene Smith Prize.

A politically engaged photographer

An anti-mafia activist, she continued her action by getting involved in local politics. In 1991, she was notably elected to the regional assembly of Sicily, under the label of the La Rete party, founded by Leoluca Orlando, current mayor of the Sicilian capital.

“It’s the most beautiful experience of my life, the most exhilarating because I was doing things for people, for the city,” she told AFP in 2016.

On the announcement of the death of Letizia Battaglia, Leoluca Orlando hailed “an extraordinary woman” who played “an emblematic role in the process to free Palermo from the clutches of the mafia”.

The Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini also saluted the memory of this “great photographer, a great Italian who, with her art and her photos, led important battles”.

After giving up her cameras for politics, particularly following the assassination of anti-mafia judge Falcone in 1992, she returned to photography with exhibitions around the world. A tenacious fighter, she fought until her last breath against Cosa Nostra.

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