Death becomes her: Sicilian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia has spent her career covering the grim results of southern Italy's Mafia wars
Battaglia's images of the Cosa Nostra have defined Italy's struggle with mobster violence. As the first major UK exhibition of her work opens, she explains how her images are more relevant than ever
Warning: contains disturbing images
'Don't think the Mafia's gone away. It's still there, especially in Sicily's politics," says the photographer and photojournalist Letizia Battaglia, whose images of the Cosa Nostra have defined Italy's struggle with mobster violence.
With the first major UK exhibition of her work opening, she explains how her images are more relevant than ever.
Aged 79, Battaglia speaks freely in a gravelly voice and without the formality of many southern Italians. "These days it's harder to photograph the Mafia," she says, "because they're graduates; they wear suits, and work in banks and politics. It's not the same peasants we saw in the past."
Palermo-born, but trained in Milan, Battaglia worked in Sicily as a front-line photo-reporter in the bloody period of the Eighties and early-Nineties. This began with ferocious internecine turf battles and the murders of senior police officers and politicians, and culminated with the Mafia's brief but shocking war on the Italian state, in which two leading anti-Mafia judges died in bomb attacks.
The two assassinated magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, murdered within months of each other in 1992, were dear friends of Battaglia.
In the past two months, however, Toto Riina, the jailed former boss of bosses who orchestrated these killings, issued a death threat from prison against the incumbent anti-Mafia magistrate Nino Di Matteo. Sources claimed explosives were being readied.
The news froze Battaglia's blood. "I felt ill. Reality was slammed in our faces again in no uncertain way. These good judges are isolated and they [the Mafia] can still kill them in their cowardly way whenever they like." Despite having received many death threats herself over the years, she joined a demonstration supporting Di Matteo wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words Scorta Civica (Civil Bodyguard).
This is why, she says, it's vital that Sicilians and Italians never forget what the Mafia is capable of. "There might be fewer murders at the moment, but that's because the Mafia is keeping a lower profile. But there's still violence and terrible corruption, and huge numbers of people forced to pay il pizzo [extortion money]."
The exhibition at Liverpool's Open Eye Gallery draws on Battaglia's archive of over 600,000 images, shot from the mid-Seventies to the early-Nineties, and also includes some recent projects.
Her most famous monochrome images show death and squalor – memorably in the immediate aftermath of the shooting of a prostitute and two clients. But Battaglia created tension in her work by combining such images with delicate still lives and intense portraiture of Sicilian children and women. As such, she showed how organised crime is blighting the lives of whole families and generations.
Battaglia the campaigner is as vocal as ever, even if she works more sparingly now. She notes that Di Matteo, the magistrate threatened in December, is currently investigating the presumed negotiations between Cosa Nostra leaders and state officials at the time of the 1992 bombings – senior police officers and a former internal affairs minister have already been put on trial.
"It's essential to know the whole truth today. Who were these men of the institutions – accomplices of Cosa Nostra? Only with the truth will it be possible to obtain justice and to establish a climate of trust. We still need good journalism to make this happen"
Letizia Battaglia: Breaking the Code of Silence, 22 February to 4 May, Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, www.openeye.org.uk
- 1 Isis propaganda video shows 25 Syrian soldiers executed by teenage militants in Palmyra
- 2 Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
- 3 The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
- 4 Right to die: Belgian doctors rule depressed 24-year-old woman has right to end her life
- 5 The biggest first date turnoff has been revealed
Isis propaganda video shows 25 Syrian soldiers executed by teenage militants in Palmyra
Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Van driver who comforted Clark Carlisle and called 999 after suicide attempt dies age 24
Greece debt crisis explainer: A history of just how the country landed itself in such a mess
Greece debt crisis referendum: Greeks want to vote No to austerity – but Yes to Europe
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...
£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...
£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...
£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...