If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that I have a series of posts focused on Italians whose lives are absolutely worth knowing.
The first post of the series was about Libereso Guglielmi, a very important figure in Italian gardening who is famous for being the gardener of Italo Calvino, while the second one was about Lisetta Carmi, a photographer from Genoa who says she has lived five different lives.
The series is back today with another female photographer, Letizia Battaglia. Her life and career are so rich and important that I absolutely wanted to write about her. In fact, she is definitely one of the most famous Italian female photographers but she deserves even more fame because she is incredibly talented.
I have to admit that I have discovered Letizia Battaglia and her work only a few years ago, thanks to an interview on the national tv. She was so brave, confident, and genuine that I immediately wanted to know more about her and her work.
Also, before Covid hit, I went to an exhibition of her work and fell in love with her photos. I’ve especially liked their rawness and the sharpness with which they depicted life in southern Italy or in other areas of the world. Battaglia’s work is exactly like her: honest, direct, and full of beauty.
Letizia Battaglia was born in Palermo in 1935. She was a stay-at-home mom who was a bit frustrated with her life and felt an urge to do something different. So, in 1969, she started working as a journalist for a newspaper called L’Ora, where she was the only woman employee. In 1971 she moved to Milan but she couldn’t find work as a journalist because no newspaper would publish her articles without photographs.
So a friend of hers gave her a camera and she began taking pictures. She didn’t take any lessons nor had any formal training. She simply started walking around the city and taking pictures of famous people like Pierpaolo Pasolini, Dario Fo and Franca Rame, and Mario Capanna and the members of the students’ movement, which was really huge at the time.
Battaglia returned to Palermo in 1974 to run the photography department at L’Ora. At the time, Palermo was going through a very difficult time: there was a cruel war between different mafia gangs and there were murders and ambushes almost every day. Letizia was not scared and she ran everywhere around the city taking pictures of all the major mafia massacres, gaining respect among her peers for her talent and bravery.
She became famous as the fotografa della mafia but the mafia crimes were not the only subject of her work: she used black and white photography to depict Palermo and its beauty, its decadence, the feasts, the traditions, the incredible people that live in that place.
In particular, she has a great eye for girls and women, who are probably her most favorite subject. A picture of a girl standing against an old door with a ball in her hand is probably one of her most famous ones: even if you don’t know Letizia Battaglia, you might have seen this photo.
In multiple interviews, she has declared that her interest in girls and women as subjects of her shots has to do with the fact that she was harassed when she was a little girl. That terrible episode deprived her of her innocence and freedom, which is something that only photography gave her back: the freedom to express herself and describe the world around her.
After working as a photographer for 20 years, she felt she wanted to do something different and decided to run for the partito ambientalista (Green Party) for the city of Palermo. She was elected and became part of the administration of the city, something she enjoyed very much because she loved doing useful things for her city.
In 1992, two important events took place: Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two judges working against the mafia, were killed in two terrible attacks (something that Battaglia described as “the climax of pain”), and the newspaper L’Ora closed down. It was then time for Letizia Battaglia to stop working as a reporter photographer and just focus on her art.
In 2017, she opened the Centro Internazionale di Fotografia, which is a school of photography and also a museum and gallery. She is now 86 years old but is still working and attending exhibitions and conferences around Italy and abroad.
Throughout her career, she has won many important prizes like the Eugene Smith Grant (she was the first female photographer to win it, in 1985) and the Mother Johnson Achievement for Life, which she won in 1999.
She has also had exhibitions all over the world, the last ones being the exhibition Letizia Battaglia – Storie di strada, which is currently in Ancona after some months in Milan, and the anthological exhibition Letizia Battaglia – Fotografia come scelta di vita which was at the Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice in 2019.
Additional resources (in Italian)
- Letizia Battaglia, Letizia Battaglia. Fotografia come scelta di vita, a cura di F. Alfano Miglietti, Venezia, Marsilio, 2019
- Letizia Battaglia, Per Pura Passione, a cura di P. Falcone, B. Pietromarchi, M. Guccione, Roma, Drago, 2016
- Letizia Battaglia, Letizia Battaglia. Anthologia, a cura di Paolo Falcone, Roma, Drago, 2016
- Letizia Battaglia e Michela Battaglia, Storie di Mafia, Roma, Postcart, 2012.
- Letizia Battaglia e Franco Zecchin, Dovere di cronaca, Roma, Peliti Associati, 2006.
- Letizia Battaglia, Letizia Battaglia. Passione, giustizia, libertà: fotografie dalla Sicilia, Milano, Federico Motta, 1999
- Letizia Battaglia, Palermo amore amaro, Palermo, Associazione Siciliana della Stampa, 1986.
- Letizia Battaglia, 8 marzo 1990 : festa della donna. Foto di Letizia Battaglia, Palermo, Grafiche Renna, 1990.
- Letizia Battaglia, Dignità e libertà, fotografie di Letizia Battaglia, Banca Etica, 2012
- Letizia Battaglia, Diario, Roma, Castelvecchi, 2014
- Letizia Battaglia e Sabrina Pisu, Mi prendo il mondo ovunque sia. Una vita da fotrografa tra impegno civile e bellezza, Torino, Einaudi, 2020.
- Battaglia – una donna contro la mafia directed by Daniela Zanzotto, 2006
- Letizia Battaglia – Amoreamaro directed by Francesco Raganato, 2014
- Shooting The Mafia directed by Kim Longinotto, 2019
- She also appears in the documentary La mafia non è più quella di una volta directed by Franco Maresco, 2019
- Letizia Battaglia talking about herself and her career
- Another video of the photographer talking about her work
- An interview with Letizia Battaglia for an exhibition in Rome
- Another interview with Letizia Battaglia on the national TV
- An article about Battaglia’s 2019 exhibition in Venice with lots of amazing pictures
- Letizia Battaglia meeting the girl she had photographed in the 80s
- One of the most recent articles about this incredible 86-year-old woman
- An interview with the photographer and some great pictures
I hope you liked this post about one of the most famous Italian female photographers. By the way, do you know other Italian photographers?
If you are looking for interesting ways to practice your Italian daily, I’d suggest you check my brand-new program called Giorno dopo giorno, a daily Italian practice.
If you sign up to Giorno dopo giorno, you will receive an email every other day for 365 days. Each email will contain a prompt, a little exercise, something to watch, read, listen to, or something that will gently force you to practice your Italian every day, making it part of your daily routine.