Skip to main content

Because I was married to a man from Palermo, Sicily, early on I became interested in, and indeed practically obsessed with, the legal problems of that beautiful but benighted island. Wanting to be helpful, I studied the history of the Mafia and how it came into existence in the 19th century through the system of landowners who, unlike those in Tuscany, did not live anywhere near their plantations. This meant that they utilized middlemen to run the farms and to control the production and sale of the farm products. Later these sloppy customs of giving power to the middlemen fed into the protection rackets of what the mafiosi eventually named Cosa Nostra, Our Thing.

Later this meant following trials including the famous (infamous?) Maxi Trial of the Mafia, which I covered, that took place in a specially constructed courthouse between February 1986 and January 1992. This trial revealed the international connections of the Mafia as no other had before.

But one of the best reporters on Sicily itself and the Mafia was Letizia Battaglia, a friend during the years when I went to Palermo frequently. Letizia, born 5 March 1935, died on 13 April 2011. She was a photographer, and gifted. As a successful professional woman in Sicily, she daringly stood apart from the men who were her competitors. For one thing she photographed women, something the male photographers did infrequently and without particular interest. She was always different.

Her single most famous photo is of a young Sicilian girl holding a soccer ball. By my reading the girl’s eyes betray wariness and an adult sense of potential harm. «She was a photographer who photographed the civil war in her territory», according to an obituary in «La Repubblica»daily the day after she died. «Photography showed her the road to freedom…. Her battle was her very life, the many lives of a woman, and not only as a photographer, but as a cultural animator, environmentalist, member of the regional parliament…. She told of the violence but also the desire in her turf for change» (M. Smargiassi, La Repubblica, April 14, 2022)

She was kept busiest by the Mafia in the Seventies and Eighties, which is when I knew her. Her photos at that time were often of women in ordinary pursuits but also of dead bodies in the Palermo streets and women in deep mourning. «For nineteen years I did work that was tough, even cruel. Never a New Year’s eve with my family! And in the chronicle [daily news] there was everything — processions, football games, rich people’s parties, filth in the streets, beauty contests… And the victims of the Mafia, whom I also photographed — too many to tolerate», she told an Italian reporter (F. Bulfon, La Repubblica, April 10, 2022)

She was the author of no less than thirteen books of her photographs published between 1999 and 2016. Two were in English, Letizia Battaglia: passion justice freedom, photographs of Sicily, New York (Aperture, 1999) and Just for Passion a catalog of her exhibition at the MAXXI Museum of 21st century arts in Rome (Drago, 2016). Another of her many exhibitions was in Milan, entitled «Stories from the Streets», which opened in December of 2019 in the prestigious Palazzo Reale.

© Sintesi Dialettica – riproduzione riservata

Send this to a friend