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The Photographer Who Fought the Sicilian Mafia for 5 A long time


When Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia handed away on April 13, 2022, the largest shock amongst these of us who’ve written about her was that she didn’t die by the hands of the Mafia.

For practically 5 a long time she fearlessly fought the felony enterprise. Armed along with her 35mm digicam, she publicized the Sicilian Mafia’s reign of terror along with her images of the bullet-riddled our bodies of public servants, harmless bystanders and mafiosi. She later labored as a politician and native activist to wrest Palermo’s streets and piazzas from the Mafia’s grip.

Exposing the Mafia’s Tradition of Loss of life

Battaglia earned worldwide approval for her images of Sicily – photographs that captured the island’s magnificence, poverty, spirit and, maybe most famously, violence.

Her first years working as a photojournalist at Palermo’s every day newspaper, L’Ora, coincided with the first Mafia murders of public figures within the Nineteen Seventies and the years of the Second Mafia Struggle within the Nineteen Eighties, which was merely generally known as “the slaughter.”

The battle over energy and earnings pitted the agricultural clan of Corleone, led by Salvatore Riina, in opposition to key clans working in Palermo, the capital of Sicily. Throughout the battle, machine gun hearth and automotive bomb explosions turned commonplace in Palermo and outlying cities.

The politicians in Rome responded to the nationwide disaster by asking Common Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa to develop into the prefect of Palermo. After spending 4 months restoring order, Dalla Chiesa, his spouse, Emanuela Setti Carraro, and police bodyguard Domenico Russo have been murdered in a sprig of machine-gun hearth on September 3, 1982 – what turned generally known as the By way of Carini Bloodbath. Dalla Chiesa’s demise, together with hits on police chiefs, public prosecutors and investigators, left sincere residents feeling hopeless and deserted.

Some days Battaglia would rush from one metropolis to a different to {photograph} a number of useless our bodies – of mafiosi, judges, police, political figures and journalists – “a lot blood,” she later recalled.

Mafia murders turned so commonplace – some 600 between 1981 and 1983 alone – that she generally stumbled on crime scenes by probability.

Such was the case along with her well-known {photograph} of the corpse of Piersanti Mattarella, the previous president of the Area of Sicily. On Jan. 6, 1980, whereas using within the automotive along with her daughter and fellow photojournalist Franco Zecchin, Battaglia noticed a small group of individuals gathering round a automotive. She spontaneously snapped photographs from the automotive window, capturing Sergio Mattarella, the present President of Italy, as he tried to assist his brother, who had been shot in an ambush.

The Palermo Spring

Battaglia’s images of Mafia violence have been revealed recurrently on the entrance web page of L’Ora. She additionally displayed giant format prints of them at pop-up displays that she and Zecchin organized in downtown Palermo and native colleges.

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

In fact, most Sicilians had been conscious of the crime group’s affect. They watched the general public parks develop into overrun by drug sellers, and tiptoed round used syringes dotting the sandy seashores. Some 80% of Palermo companies recurrently paid the “pizzo,” or cash demanded by the Mafia to guard companies from the Mafia’s personal violence.

However Battaglia’s photographs of bloodshed made it unimaginable to proceed turning a blind eye, and a shift regularly occurred.

Starting in 1983, an anti-Mafia pool of prosecutors and uncompromised law enforcement officials began arresting quite a few Mafia members. Over 450 of them have been ultimately placed on trial within the well-known Maxi-trial, which started in 1986.

With public confidence within the justice system bolstered, a social, cultural and political revolution passed off between 1985 and 1990. On a regular basis folks and new members of the town council began instantly confronting the Mafia and dealing to loosen its grip on the area. It turned generally known as the “Palermo Spring,” and Battaglia was a driving power behind it.

In 1985, she was elected as a council member. Along with the mayor, Leoluca Orlando, who appointed her Commissioner for Gardens and Public Life, Battaglia labored to cease the Mafia’s decadeslong sacking of Palermo. Mafia leaders and their political allies had let colleges, historic palazzos and gardens fall into disrepair, with the intent of ultimately razing the downtown neighborhoods and making windfall earnings in reconstruction.

Battaglia was pushed by the conviction that offering all residents free entry to spectacular gardens, parks, seashores and historic websites was important for making a tradition of respect and appreciation for Palermo and its heritage. Via her tasks to make Palermo extra lovely and livable, Battaglia reclaimed Mafia-controlled areas block by block. She labored with fellow members of the town council on undertakings equivalent to eradicating deserted vehicles, making a downtown pedestrian mall and restoring public gardens to their authentic magnificence.

On streets and in piazzas managed by clan bosses, the place a look or flawed phrase can characterize an offense worthy of violent retaliation, Battaglia’s acts instantly challenged the bosses. However public assist quickly coalesced behind Battaglia and her allies.

One occasion is very memorable. After having mountains of rubbish hauled away from the seaside close to Foro Italica close to the Kalsa neighborhood, which was well-known for its excessive focus of highly effective mafiosi, she had some benches for having fun with the view bolted into the cement. The subsequent day they have been gone.

Journalist Antonio Roccuzzo was with Battaglia. He recalled how she went straight to the neighborhood and shouted, “I do know who you’re. The benches don’t belong to you. They belong to everybody. If all of you don’t put them again inside the hour, I’m going to boost hell!”

An hour later, the benches have been bolted again in place.

Protecting an Invisible Mafia within the Public Eye

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

With these bombings, generally known as the “technique of massacres,” the Mafia attacked the state’s symbols of justice, authorities, finance and tradition. Their purpose was to intimidate politicians into weakening legal guidelines in opposition to organized crime.

Nevertheless, the violence elicited much more public backlash, and the felony group quickly adopted the technique of going underground and quietly carrying on its diversified felony actions. This shift marked a departure from spectacular bombings, brazen assassinations and shootouts in metropolis streets.

Embed from Getty Photographs

Letizia Battaglia poses in entrance of considered one of her images in 2016. Eric Cabanis/AFP by way of Getty Photographs
But the menace of the Mafia nonetheless stays. Their homicide victims now die principally by “lupara bianca” – with any hint of their our bodies destroyed by hearth or acid.

Within the absence of seen proof, Battaglia’s photographs documenting Mafia bloodshed and bereavement proceed doing the work of holding the ramifications of Mafia violence within the public eye.

These painful photographs have additionally develop into autos for expressing hope. In a mission Battaglia started in 2004, generally known as “Rielaborazioni” – or “Re-elaborations” – she takes the unique photographs of violent deaths and overlays symbols and indicators of renewal, usually by way of vibrant feminine figures. In her reconfiguration of her iconic image of Falcone at Dalla Chiesa’s funeral in 1982, a youthful girl seems within the foreground, bathed in water spraying from a fountain.

In demise, as in life, Battaglia’s impassioned dedication to create magnificence and hope in her beloved Palermo survives. You possibly can see it on the streets of a metropolis reborn, and on the faces of its sincere, well-meaning residents.


Concerning the writer: Robin Pickering-Iazzi is a professor of French, Italian and Comparative Literature on the College of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The opinions expressed on this article are solely these of the writer. This text was initially revealed at The Dialog and is being republished underneath a Artistic Commons license.


Picture credit: Header portrait by Simone Tagliaferri and licensed underneath CC BY 2.0



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