In Pictures

In pictures: Framing the Mafia

Letizia Battaglia Image copyright GIULIA MARIANI

"These pictures still cause me pain," says Letizia Battaglia, who during her career in Italy took some of the best-known photographs of the surge of Mafia violence in Sicily between the 1970s and 1990s. The BBC's Julian Miglierini talked to her about her work:

WARNING: Some of these photos contain graphic content including pictures of the victims' bodies

This is one of Battaglia's best-known pictures: it shows the scene soon after the murder of the then governor of Sicily Piersanti Mattarella by the Mafia. His body is being held by his brother, the current President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella.

Image copyright Letizia Battaglia

"It's striking how a picture can change meaning over time: this photograph is not only about the murdered man anymore, but about his brother," says Battaglia. "For me it has become a symbol of hope. Today, the president of our country has the fight against Mafia inside him, forever."

Image copyright Letizia Battaglia

"I always used a wide lens, which meant that for taking a good picture you need to be really up close," Battaglia says.

Sometimes too close. The man in this picture is Leoluca Bagarella - convicted of Mafia crimes and dozens of murders. Battaglia was there while he was being led away by police after being arrested in 1980.

"He was very angry and when he passed in front of me, he threw a strong kick at me. I actually fell backwards just after I took this picture."

Image copyright Letizia Battaglia

Battaglia is also known for her work photographing scenes of daily life in Palermo.

"This is just a kid who was playing with a plastic gun at a poor neighbourhood in Palermo, Santa Chiara. He was pretending to be a killer.

"For the Day of the Dead, little boys would get guns from their relatives - but a gun is a horrible thing. When I worked in politics in Sicily, I wrote a manifesto calling for people to stop giving toy guns to little boys. It has to be said: basta (enough)."

Image copyright Letizia Battaglia

In this photograph, a man lies dead after being killed in a Mafia homicide.

"I took several pictures at this location, but this sounded like the most 'silent' one, with the car with the Palermo licence plate, that typical Sicilian floor tiles, the blanket... you never get used to seeing children, women and men murdered, every day, everywhere. That was how it was like in Palermo. Like a civil war. I have my archives full of murdered people."

Image copyright Letizia Battaglia

Battaglia focused also on the environments around the murder scenes - the relatives who came to see their dead loved ones, the crowds that would gather behind the police cordons. In this photograph, the son of one victim is being held by two Italian carabinieri as he tries to approach the scene.

Image copyright Letizia Battaglia

Often, dozens of people would surround the bodies, Battaglia remembers. But there was also a certain "normality" to it all. "There were kids who would be watching this while having an ice cream."

Image copyright Letizia Battaglia

This is a picture that Battaglia took of judge Cesare Terranova after he was murdered by the Mafia in an ambush in 1979. His chest is covered in blood - which turns from red to black in Battaglia's work.

"I've always taken pictures in black and white - I would have never accepted the red of blood; I didn't want to produce sensationalist photos, I wanted to honour this man.

"I'm moved by that little hand laying on the seat, near all the glass. These were people who did their job right, and that's why they were killed."

Image copyright Letizia Battaglia

This photo was taken during the infamous "trial of the 114" in 1978, during which 114 Mafia members were put on trial.

While the men in the back rows covered their faces when they noticed Battaglia taking pictures - "Maybe they thought they would be able to go back to their underground, criminal lives" - the man in the front, Gaetano Fidanzati, looks defiantly at the photographer. "He was the powerful capo (boss) - he didn't need to cover his face."

Image copyright Letizia Battaglia

This picture shows anti-Mafia Judge Giovanni Falcone attending the funeral of Palermo's police prefect Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa, murdered in 1982.

Ten years later, Falcone himself, his wife and three of his bodyguards were killed in an attack with explosives that marked a turning point in public sentiment against the Mafia.

"I loved Giovanni Falcone", Battaglia says. "He was someone who wanted to save us." When she took these pictures, she says, "I would have never imagined that one day he would be killed himself. We still don't know who did it, and we're still calling for justice."

Image copyright Letizia Battaglia

The rise of Mafia-related violence in the early 1990s galvanised opposition to the organised crime syndicate's stronghold on Sicilian society. There were several anti-Mafia demonstrations in Palermo, like the one this little girl is attending.

"I'm normally not very good at photographing the pain and the rage of the anti-Mafia movement", Battaglia says. "But this girl is a symbol of the future, of the desire to fight against the Mafia."

Battaglia, now 82, has just published an anthology of her work and the Maxxi museum in Rome is hosting a major exhibition from late November.

She still lives in Palermo and closely follows current affairs.

"The battle against the Mafia continues. Sometimes I say, 'We'll never make it'. And sometimes I think 'No, we should continue towards victory'. I will not see the victory myself - but I hope that this fight will continue to be fought by my grandchildren - and my great-grandchildren."

All photographs © Letizia Battaglia from the book Anthology, published by Drago.

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