Letizia Battaglia’s Photo Show in Livorno: an Inside View of the Mafia

Rosaria Schifani, widow of Vito Schifani, Giovanni Falcone’s police escort who was killed at Capaci

Until March 15, 2019: Letizia Battaglia’s Inside View of Lives Affected by the Sicilian Mafia.  Museo Civico Giovanni Fattori, Livorno.

Battaglia, meaning “battle” in Italian, fights to tell the stories of humanity, to recount their suffering, to make their lives known. Though her works often feature the Sicilian Mafia, her focus is much deeper, seeking the stories in people’s eyes, and the beauty in darkness.

Fifty photographs share an insider view of Palermo, the women, children, the streets, and the blood, through the lens of “the Mafia photographer,” as Letizia Battaglia is known. Part of the Villa Mimbelli’s “Photography and Work of the World” series, the collection is described as a glimpse of the “archetypes that generate human action.”

Black and white photos contrast the innocence of a child’s eyes with deaths of men on the street, showing the painful reality of the effects of organized crime.

Exhibition curator Serafino Fasulo says the images mirror Greek tragedies, as capturing both the “pain and the sublime.”  Battaglia never took color photographs, saying even today “thinking about the red of the blood makes me ill.” Her use of a wide-angle lens means the photograph doesn’t just focus on the victim, but those who stand near the body, allowing the viewer to feel “as if we were their neighbors,” according to Fasulo.

After years of documenting the underside of the Palermo, at 83, she is now recognized as one of the world’s most important contemporary photographers. This exhibition invites the guest to experience the action through: a girl’s solemn gaze; young boys playing with guns; the hands of a killer; the city’s bloodshed (including a memorable photo of the present president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, holding his assassinated brother, head of the Sicilian government, in his arms); as well as celebrations, where women dance and raise their glasses.

As a storyteller leaving an indelible record of photos documenting a particular reality in Sicily, Battaglia has counted important photojournalists such as Josef Koudelka, Sebastiao Salgado, and Diane Arbus among her close friends.

The show is part of “Photography and Work of the World” series at the Granaries of Villa Mimbelli.  Hours are Friday through Sunday, 10 to 1 pm, 4 to 7 pm; admission: €5 for adults, free for kids under 14.  (nicole grant)