Letizia Battaglia (born March 5, 1935) is a Sicilian photographer and photojournalist. Although her photos document a wide spectrum of Sicilian life, she is best known for her work on the Mafia.
She was born in Palermo, Sicily. Married at 16, she took up photojournalism after her divorce in 1971, while raising three daughters. She picked up a camera when she found that she could better sell her articles if they were accompanied by photographs and slowly discovered a burning passion for photography. In 1974, after a period in Milan during which she met her long-time partner Franco Zecchin, she returned to Sicily to work work for the left-wing L’Ora newspaper in Palermo until it was forced to close in 1990.
Battaglia took some 600,000 images as she covered the territory for the paper. Over the years she documented the ferocious internal war of the Mafia, and its assault on civil society. Battaglia sometimes found herself at the scene of four or five different murders in a single day. Battaglia and Zecchin produced many of the iconic images that have come to represent Sicily and the Mafia throughout the world. She photographed the dead so often that she was like a roving morgue. “Suddenly,” she once said, “I had an archive of blood.”
Battaglia also became involved in women’s and environmental issues. For several years she stopped taking pictures and officially entered the world of politics. From 1985 to 1997 she held a seat on the Palermo city council for the Green Party. She was instrumental in saving and reviving the historic center of Palermo. For a time she ran a publishing house, Edizioni della Battaglia, and co-founded a monthly journal for women, Mezzocielo. She is deeply involved in working for the rights of women and, most recently, prisoners.
In 1993, when prosecutors in Palermo indicted Giulio Andreotti, who had been prime minister of Italy seven times, the police searched Battaglia’s archives and found two 1979 photographs of Andreotti with an important Mafioso, Nino Salvo, he had denied knowing. Aside from the accounts of turncoats, these pictures were the only physical evidence of this powerful politician’s connections to the Sicilian Mafia. Battaglia herself had forgotten having taken the photograph. Its potential significance was apparent only 15 years after it was taken.
In 1985 she received the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography. In 1999 she received the Photography Lifetime Achievement of the Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography. In 2007 she received the Erich Salomon-Preis, a ‘lifetime achievement’ award of the Deutschen Gesellschaft für Photographie (DGPh) and the most prestigious prize in Germany. In 2009, she was given the Cornell Capa Infinity Award by the International Center of Photography.
In 2005, she appeared in the documentary Excellent Cadavers based on the 1995 book by Alexander Stille. Battaglia plays the role of survivor and passionate eyewitness. Battaglia has a cameo appearance in the 2008 Wim Wenders film Palermo Shooting as a photographer.
All images © Letizia BattagliaFonte