The legendary Italian Mafia photo reporter Letizia Battaglia died after a long illness on Wednesday at the age of 87, her family said.
Battaglia worked for years for the prestigious Palermo newspaper L’Ora, chronicling the Mafia wars that left scores of bullet-riddled bodies strewn around the Sicilian capital and other parts of Sicily in a savage conflict won by the Corleonesi faction under soon to become boss of bosses Salvatore ‘the Beast’ Riina. At the height of the feud, Battaglia said “we had up to five bodies a day to photograph”.
She also captured dramatic images of assassinations of anti-Mafia politicians and magistrates, like the photo of now president Sergio Mattarella cradling the bloody body of his brother Piersanti, the head of the Sicilian regional government assembly, in January 1980. Other iconic images included magistrate Giovanni Falcone, slain by the Mob in 1992, quizzing the first major Cosa Nostra informant, Tommaso Buscetta, in the late 80s, and Christian Democrat titan Giulio Andreotti fighting a long legal battle against charges of helping the Mafia, a case that ended with his complicity with mafiosi up to 1980 being timed out, and recognition that he began fighting the organization from then on.
A winner of the Eugene Smith and Eric Salomon awards, Battaglia also worked for major world news and photo agencies. In the late 80s and early 90s she was a Green member of Palermo’s city council. A TV series on her life starring Isabella Ragonese and directed by Roberto Andò was already slated to appear on Rai state broadcaster soon. Tributes to Battaglia poured in Thursday and Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando called her a “symbol” of the city. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini called her a “great Italian”. Battaglia’s daughters Shobba and Patrizia will scatter her ashes in the sea off Palermo in accordance with her wishes.