Letizia Battaglia, pioneer photographer who defied the mafia, died at 87

Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia smiles during an interview with Reuters in this still image from video, in Palermo, Italy April 21, 2006. Video taken April 21, 2006. REUTERS TV via REUTERS

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ROME, April 14 (Reuters) – World-renowned photographer Letizia Battaglia, whose courageous work documenting the mafia’s grip on her native Sicily was both chilling and poignant, has died. She was 87 years old.

Battaglia, who died Wednesday night in the Sicilian capital Palermo, photographed the brutal mafia wars of the 1980s and 1990s, showing political killings and corpses in pools of blood on sidewalks or abandoned by the side of a rural road.

She was also famous for her images depicting the impact of the Mafia on Sicilians, from a boy playing ‘hitman’ by wearing a nylon stocking over his face and holding a toy gun to a grieving widow. a mob victim at a funeral.

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“I did what I could to shake consciences by showing not only the violent deaths but also the poverty caused by the Mafia,” Battaglia said.

“She documented Mafia atrocities long before it became popular or safe,” wrote Alexander Stille, author of “Excellent Cadavers,” a landmark book on the Mafia, in the New York Review of Books in 1999.

Among his other works, Battaglia documented what the Italians called “Sicilia bene”, the high-society world of his native island comprising the wealthy and influential, whose members often had ties to politics and organized crime.

“Palermo is losing an extraordinary woman, a point of reference,” said Leoluca Orlando, the Sicilian capital’s current mayor and anti-Mafia reformist when he held the same post during the fiercest clan wars three years ago. decades.

“Letizia Battaglia was an internationally recognized symbol, a standard bearer on the road to freeing the city of Palermo from Mafia rule,” he said.

His archive of more than half a million photos was so extensive that police investigators once consulted them to find out who had attended a political rally decades earlier. They were part of what she once called “a blood archive.”

A woman in what was traditionally a man’s world, she has held numerous solo exhibitions and been the subject of several documentary films, including 2019’s “Shooting the Mafia” by British filmmaker Kim Longinotto.

An activist who worked to save the old Baroque neighborhoods of Palermo from property developers, she defended women’s rights and served on Palermo city council and the Sicilian regional assembly several times in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer Editing by Bernadette Baum

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