Perspective of a Photographer and Journalist on Organized Crime in 1980’s Italy

By Nicole Woods


A picture of a widow who’s husband was killed by the mafia for protecting judge Giovanni Falcone.

In America, a whole genre of gangster movies have been dedicated to the mafia. One of the most famously known mafia movies is the Godfather. The Sopranos, The Family, and other movies come to mind as well. However, life in Italy with the mafia was and is no walk in the park and definitely no action thriller either, according to Letizia Battaliga, a Sicilian woman who photographed many of the murdered victims of the mafia throughout the late 70’s and early to mid 80’s.
“Americans love ‘The Sopranos.’ They don’t believe the Mafia is like what they see on television, but the Mafia is dangerous, like ISIS,” Battaliga said in an interview with CNN. A dream of Battaliga in the 70’s, after her divorce, was to become a writer. And, just as she dreamed, she got a job as a journalist in 1971 at Milan. When offered a job in her home town Palermo, she wrote a lot about the Mafia.

The people who worked for her asked for pictures to be included in her article. Camera lenses saw the horrors of the Mafia in Palermo. Unfortunately for her, she was in the bloodiest time period of the Mafia in Palermo, her home town, and now Mafia territory. She struggled photographing both the greatness and the victims of the Mafia. Victims plagued the streets, and little hope could be found within Palermo. Battaliga was deeply disturbed.

Many of Battaliga’s friends were killed. Battaliga explained, “The best judges, the best policemen, the best people were killed. Some were friends. I can’t accept that this happened. I can’t finish my life accepting this. I want love. I want beautiful things. I want a normal life. That’s what my photos were fighting for.”

Some of her photos photographed the normal lives of Sicilians despite the Mafia lurking in the city. She tried to even out her bloody archives She photographed children. Children gave her hope. letizia-battaglia-restricted-super-169

When she testified against the Mafia in court she received death threats from the Mafia. When she arrived to crime scenes she was with victims who were taking their last breath. Every day of her life was scary in Palermo.

And it’s still not over. “The Mafia is now more powerful than ever. Before it was savage, they killed. Now they are in politics and financial life. This is not only blood … it is corruption.” Live and photograph was all she could try to do in her old town. She could photograph the normal, and even out her archives of murder victims and blood baths with the happier things in life.

One thing she learned in Palermo was that the Mafia wasn’t something to be joked or romanticized. A whole genre of movies inspired for their thrilling action and romance has actually taken victims. Never have Mafia movies become more disturbing and romanticized.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.