Letizia Battaglia, who shot life and death in Palermo, has died

ROME — Letizia Battaglia, an Italian photographer who documented the arrests of mob bosses and the bodies of their victims, has died in her Sicilian hometown of Palermo. She was 87 years old.

Among the authorities announcing his death was Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando, who stood watch next to his coffin during his vigil at City Hall on Thursday, a day after his death. No cause of death was cited, but Battaglia had been in frail health for some time.

Much of his work, mostly in black and white, explored the daily lives of those who lived in the poor neighborhoods of Palermo, where Cosa Nostra bosses dominated. Battaglia photographed ordinary Sicilians in moments of grief and joy.

Among his notorious photos was that of the body of the murdered governor of Sicily being held by his brother, who 35 years later would be elected president of Italy.

Battaglia recounted how, on January 6, 1980, she rushed to the scene of a fatal shooting of a man in a car and began photographing him, before finding out who the victim was.

It was not until shortly after that she would learn that the deceased was the governor, Piersanti Mattarella, and that one of the men who rushed to hold his body as he was pulled from the car was his brother. , Sergio, who 35 years later would become President of Italy.

Frequently asked about this photograph, Battaglia said that even if she captured a death scene, it represented for her a moment of hope because Sergio Mattarella would have the determination and the courage to pursue a political career and later occupy the highest function from Italy.

Besides the death in the streets of Palermo, Battaglia photographed their life. The cover photo of a book of his photographs, “Palermo amore amaro” (Bitter Love of Palermo) features a thin young girl, almost a teenager, holding a soccer ball in one hand and glaring hard at the camera as she leans against a graffiti-stained door in 1982 in Kalsa, a tough neighborhood in Palermo.

Another photo shows a girl doing the dishes in a house so poor there is a toilet bowl in the kitchen. Other photographs show couples kissing at the beach or kissing in the countryside.

Other Battaglia photos capture scenes all too familiar to Palermo residents, particularly in the 1980s, when turf wars by Mafia clans bloodied the city. A photo from 1983 shows three bodies – one slumped on the ceramic floor, another on a sofa and the third in an armchair – during a triple homicide in an apartment.

There is a photo of an aging mother holding a photo of her son, a radio journalist who dared to expose local gangsters by name on the air – and who was killed, tied to a railroad track and ripped apart by sticks of dynamite stuffed into his clothes.

“Letizia Battaglia with her pictures has captured the souls of Palermo,” Senator Pietro Grasso, who was previously Italy’s top anti-Mafia prosecutor, wrote on Facebook in a tribute of condolence. “Those of the women and girls she photographed all her life, and the crime photos, of the mafia, often arriving at the scene of the crime before law enforcement.”

She captured “the pain of the victims, the arrogance of the mafia bosses, the blood in the streets, the protagonists in the fight against Cosa Nostra,” Grasso said.

Born in Palermo on March 5, 1935, she married at the age of 16 and had three daughters. In her thirties, she began to photograph, worked in Milan and then was hired by a Sicilian newspaper to work in Palermo. Battaglia’s work has also been published by leading Italian weeklies L’Espresso and Panorama.

Battaglia also spent several years in politics, serving as cultural commissioner of Palermo during one of Orlando’s first administrations and as a representative in the regional legislature of Sicily.

Volcanic in personality, forever youthful in outlook, Battaglia, whose surname means “battle” in Italian, has weathered her final months in failing health. One of his last assignments was on the cover of 7, a weekly magazine for the daily Corriere della Sera. The photo showed a 19-year-old Italian singer-songwriter, Ariete,

In an interview in the book “Palermo amore amaro”, the interviewer notes at the end that the two in their conversation never talked about the mafia.

“Well, better,” Battaglia replied. “Why always talk about them. Let’s step over them.

His family said his remains would be cremated and scattered in the sea near Palermo at his request.

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