Legendary photographer Letizia Battaglia, whose striking photographs revealed the hidden world of the Sicilian Mafia and their victims, has died at the age of 87.
Born and raised in Palermo, Letizia married at 16 to escape her jealous father. After raising three daughters, she divorced and travelled to Milan intending to work as a writer.
She took up photography at the age of 37, after the Milanese newspapers to which she submitted her articles requested images to accompany the text. A friend gave her a camera, and Letizia got to work, eventually directing a photographic team in Palermo for the newspaper L’Ora. With the Sicilian Mafia at its height on the streets of 1970s and 1980s Palermo, their terrible activities quickly became the focus of Letizia’s work.
Letizia exhibited a strong sense of fortitude, carrying out her work in the face of several death threats. Determined to record the reality of Mafia violence for the sake of the victims and communities affected, Letizia utilised photography as a means of challenge and a method of reclaiming power.
In her later years, Letizia sought to look beyond the ‘archive of blood’ she had created in search of beauty. While taking photographs of the Mafia to ‘report everything that prevented us from being sweet and happy’, she continued to look for ‘love, sweetness, tenderness’.
One of her final works, The Beauty of Greta, is a portrait study of 10-year-old Greta Castiglione. The work is born from the trauma of witnessing the murder scene of Claudio, another 10-year-old child, in 1987. In Letizia ‘s own words;
“[…] the death of that innocent child, killed because he had witnessed a murder, marked me forever. They took away the right to life. The right to dream. That is why, from the destruction of life, I decided to move on to the construction of life. From horror to beauty.”
Letizia was the recipient of several major awards throughout her long career, including the W. Eugene Smith Grant for Humanistic Photography and the Cornell Capa Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography.
A documentary film based on her life, Shooting the Mafia, was released in 2019. She will be remembered for her courage, non-conformity, and her indomitable belief in the power of innocence.