Mafia Brutality photographer Letizia Battaglia dies at 87

ROME — Letizia Battaglia, a photographer who chronicled years of Sicilian Mafia bloodshed in Palermo, Italy, in flawless images that hav...


ROME — Letizia Battaglia, a photographer who chronicled years of Sicilian Mafia bloodshed in Palermo, Italy, in flawless images that have seared into the national consciousness, died on Wednesday at her Palermo home. She was 87 years old.

His daughter Patrizia Stagnitta confirmed his death but did not specify the cause.

“Mario Puzo wrote a book about the Mafia. Coppola made a movie. But only Letizia Battaglia tells the real story and its harsh reality,” says the blurb for Anthology, an art book of his photographs from a 2016 exhibition of his work in Palermo, the capital of Sicily.

Ms Battaglia went to work for the Palermo newspaper L’Ora in the 1970s, during the turbulent years known as the Second Mafia War, when gangsters in the town of Corleone muscled in on Palermo’s criminal gangs .

The gang war has slaughtered hundreds of mobsters but also law enforcement officers, prosecutors and politicians. Ms Battaglia and photographer Franco Zecchin, her life partner, were often the first on the scene as they had an illegal police scanner.

One of his best-known images, taken on January 6, 1980, depicted the corpse of Piersanti Mattarella, the governor of Sicily, held by his brother Sergio, now president of Italy.

Even as she recorded these killings, Ms Battaglia openly challenged the Mafia’s hold on Sicily. In 1979, she collected photographs of victims and installed them in the main square of Corleone, the home town of Sicily’s most ruthless crime family at the time. It was a bold and potentially dangerous move.

“His photos were an act of condemnation,” said Paolo Falcone, curator of several recent exhibitions of his work, in a 2017 interview with The New York Times for a Saturday Profile of Mrs. Battaglia. “She was a photographer, but above all an activist.”

Other Mafia photographs were exhibited in the streets of Palermo. “I was scared,” she admitted to The Times, adding that she couldn’t count the number of times she had received threatening phone calls or been harassed on the street. Once she received an anonymous letter telling her to leave Palermo permanently. “Your sentence has already been served,” she said.

The threats strengthened his resolve to make a difference. She became a leader of the so-called “Palermo Spring” in the mid-1980s, when ordinary people began to openly denounce the mafia.

Ms Battaglia then turned to politics, winning a seat on the Palermo city council and then in the regional parliament.

Letizia Battaglia was born on March 5, 1935 in Palermo. Her father, a sailor, took the family to Trieste in northern Italy, where she spent her childhood before returning to Palermo. Her mother was a housewife.

Ms Battaglia married at 16 and had three daughters in her mid-twenties.

In 1971 she left her husband and moved to Milan, where she began working as a journalist. Her career in photojournalism began after editors encouraged her to photograph the subjects of her articles. She learned to use a camera on her own, inspired by photographers she admired, such as Mary Ellen Mark, Josef Koudelka, and especially Diane Arbus, whom she met in the 1980s.

She returned to Palermo in 1974, just before her 40th birthday.

Best known for the photographs she took while working for L’Ora from 1974 to 1992, Ms Battaglia was also drawn to social issues. His subjects included the patients of a psychiatric hospital, the island’s poor, the difficult life of women and young girls growing up in Sicily, and especially his city, Palermo.

“Palermo has lost an extraordinary woman,” Mayor Leoluca Orlando wrote on the city’s official website. “Letizia Battaglia was an internationally recognized symbol in the art world and a banner in the liberation of Palermo from Mafia rule.”

In her later years she was celebrated in exhibitions at major museums and in art books filled with images taken from archives of some 600,000 photographs.

“I never thought of myself as an artist and I’m always amazed to walk into a museum and see my work,” Ms Battaglia said in the 2017 Times interview.

She first received international recognition in 1985, when she received the W. Eugene Smith Grant for Humanist Photography, donated by the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund in New York.

In recent years, Ms. Battaglia participated in the creation of the first museum in Palermo dedicated to photography, the International Center of Photographywhich opened in 2017.

On Friday, the mayor of Orlando announced that the center would be renamed in his honor, as would a street in a cultural center in Palermo.

A TV mini-series about her life, “Just for Passion: Letizia Battaglia, Photographer,” will air in Italy next month. “She had a very adventurous life,” director Roberto Andò said in a phone interview. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t show it to her.”

Besides her daughter Patrizia, she is survived by two other daughters, Cinzia Stagnitta and Shobha Battaglia, also a photographer; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Ms Stagnitta said in a telephone interview that her mother continued to work despite having difficulty walking. In the week before her death, Ms Battaglia attended a workshop in central Italy and earlier this year she photography a young Italian singer for a weekly magazine.

“She was still working, earning her daily bread,” Ms Stagnitta said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Mafia Brutality photographer Letizia Battaglia dies at 87
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