The photographer | Sicilian Mafia for five decades

While Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia surpassed away on April 13, 2022, the biggest surprise amongst the ones people who’ve written about her became that she didn’t die at the palms of the Mafia.

For nearly 5 many years she fearlessly fought the crook enterprise. Armed together with her 35mm digital camera, she publicized the Sicilian Mafia’s reign of terror with her pix of the bullet-riddled bodies of public servants, harmless bystanders and mafiosi. She later worked as a baby-kisser and neighborhood activist to wrest Palermo’s streets and piazzas from the Mafia’s grip.

Exposing the Mafia’s tradition of demise
Battaglia earned worldwide popularity of her photos of Sicily – images that captured the island’s splendor, poverty, spirit and, possibly maximum famously, violence.

Her first years running as a photojournalist at Palermo’s day by day newspaper, L’Ora, coincided with the first Mafia murders of public figures inside the Nineteen Seventies and the years of the second Mafia battle inside the 1980s, which became truly referred to as “the slaughter.”

The struggle over power and earnings pitted the rural extended family of Corleone, led by Salvatore Riina, in opposition to key clans operating in Palermo, the capital of Sicily. At some point of the war, machine gun fire and car bomb explosions became commonplace in Palermo and outlying towns.

The politicians in Rome spoke back to the country wide disaster by means of asking trendy Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa to emerge as the prefect of Palermo. After spending four months restoring order, Dalla Chiesa, his wife, Emanuela Setti Carraro, and police bodyguard Domenico Russo were murdered in a sprig of gadget-gun fire on September 3, 1982 – what have become called the via Carini massacre. Dalla Chiesa’s loss of life, together with hits on police chiefs, public prosecutors and investigators, left honest residents feeling hopeless and abandoned.

Some days Battaglia might rush from one city to any other to picture numerous lifeless our bodies – of mafiosi, judges, police, political figures and reporters – “a lot blood,” she later recalled.

Mafia murders became so commonplace – a few 600 between 1981 and 1983 alone – that she from time to time came upon crime scenes with the aid of chance.

Such become the case along with her famous photograph of the corpse of Piersanti Mattarella, the previous president of the area of Sicily. On Jan. 6, 1980, even as riding inside the vehicle with her daughter and fellow photojournalist Franco Zecchin, Battaglia saw a small institution of human beings amassing around a automobile. She spontaneously snapped pictures from the automobile window, shooting Sergio Mattarella, the present day President of Italy, as he tried to help his brother, who have been shot in an ambush.

The Palermo Spring

Battaglia’s snap shots of Mafia violence were published frequently on the front page of L’Ora. She additionally displayed big format prints of them at pop-up well-knownshows that she and Zecchin organized in downtown Palermo and local colleges.

In doing so, she forced people to face what that they had disavowed: that the Mafia existed, and that it killed.

Of course, most Sicilians have been privy to the crime company’s impact. They watched the general public parks end up overrun by way of drug dealers, and tiptoed round used syringes dotting the sandy beaches. A few eighty% of Palermo agencies frequently paid the “pizzo,” or cash demanded by the Mafia to defend companies from the Mafia’s very own violence.

However Battaglia’s pics of bloodshed made it not possible to hold turning a blind eye, and a shift progressively occurred.

Beginning in 1983, an anti-Mafia pool of prosecutors and uncompromised law enforcement officials started arresting numerous Mafia participants. Over 450 of them were sooner or later placed on trial in the well-known Maxi-trial, which began in 1986.

With public self belief within the justice gadget strengthened, a social, cultural and political revolution took place between 1985 and 1990. Normal human beings and new members of the town council started out at once confronting the Mafia and working to loosen its grip at the vicinity. It became known as the “Palermo Spring,” and Battaglia become a riding pressure behind it.

Organization of humans marching conserving a white banner.
Protesters in Palermo carry a banner reading ‘Expel the Mafia from institutions.’ Marka/time-honored images institution through Getty pictures
In 1985, she turned into elected as a council member. Collectively with the mayor, Leoluca Orlando, who appointed her Commissioner for Gardens and Public existence, Battaglia labored to forestall the Mafia’s decadeslong sacking of Palermo. Mafia leaders and their political allies had allow faculties, historical palazzos and gardens fall into disrepair, with the purpose of ultimately razing the downtown neighborhoods and making providence earnings in reconstruction.


Battaglia was pushed by means of the conviction that presenting all residents free access to mind-blowing gardens, parks, beaches and historic websites changed into vital for growing a tradition of recognize and appreciation for Palermo and its historical past. Thru her tasks to make Palermo greater lovely and livable, Battaglia reclaimed Mafia-managed areas block via block. She worked with fellow members of the town council on undertakings inclusive of removing deserted cars, developing a downtown pedestrian mall and restoring public gardens to their original splendor.

On streets and in piazzas controlled by way of clan bosses, in which a glance or wrong word can represent an offense worth of violent retaliation, Battaglia’s acts at once challenged the bosses. However public support quickly coalesced in the back of Battaglia and her allies.

One example is particularly memorable. After having mountains of rubbish hauled far from the beach near Foro Italica close to the Kalsa neighborhood, which became well-known for its excessive attention of powerful mafiosi, she had a few benches for enjoying the view bolted into the cement. The next day they have been long gone.

Journalist Antonio Roccuzzo became with Battaglia. He recalled how she went straight to the neighborhood and shouted, “I realize who you are. The benches don’t belong to you. They belong to absolutely everyone. If all of you don’t placed them back within the hour, I’m going to raise hell!”

An hour later, the benches had been bolted again in location.

Keeping an invisible Mafia in the public eye

In 1992 and 1993, a series of bombings took the lives of Judges Giovanni Falcone, renowned architect of the Maxi-trial; Francesca Morvillo, a prosecutor inside the juvenile court docket of Palermo and his spouse; and Paolo Borsellino, who had labored carefully with Falcone and investigated his homicide. Bodyguards and bystanders in Sicily, Rome, Milan and Florence additionally perished.

With these bombings, called the “method of massacres,” the Mafia attacked the kingdom’s symbols of justice, authorities, finance and subculture. Their goal become to intimidate politicians into weakening laws towards organized crime.

However, the violence elicited even more public backlash, and the criminal company quickly adopted the strategy of going underground and quietly sporting on its assorted criminal activities. This shift marked a departure from surprising bombings, brazen assassinations and shootouts in city streets.

Girl poses in the front of a framed black and white photo.
Letizia Battaglia poses in front of considered one of her photos in 2016. Eric Cabanis/AFP through Getty pics
Yet the risk of the Mafia nevertheless stays. Their homicide victims now die usually by way of “lupara bianca” – with any hint in their bodies destroyed by using fire or acid.

Inside the absence of seen evidence, Battaglia’s photographs documenting Mafia bloodshed and bereavement keep doing the paintings of keeping the ramifications of Mafia violence in the public eye.

Those painful photos have additionally emerge as automobiles for expressing hope. In a mission Battaglia started out in 2004, called “Rielaborazioni” – or “Re-elaborations” – she takes the original snap shots of violent deaths and overlays symbols and signs of renewal, regularly thru colourful lady figures. In her reconfiguration of her iconic picture of Falcone at Dalla Chiesa’s funeral in 1982, a younger woman seems inside the foreground, bathed in water spraying from a fountain.

In demise, as in existence, Battaglia’s impassioned dedication to create beauty and hope in her loved Palermo survives. You can see it at the streets of a town reborn, and at the faces of its sincere, well-which means citizens.

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