Critics’ Picks

I due Cristi (The Two Christs), Palermo, 1982, black-and-white photograph, 39 3/8 x 59".

I due Cristi (The Two Christs), Palermo, 1982, black-and-white photograph, 39 3/8 x 59".

Rome

Letizia Battaglia

Galleria Cesare Manzo
Vicolo del Governo Vecchio 8
May 21–July 12, 2008

Letizia Battaglia is known less as a fine artist than as a photojournalist devoted to capturing and chronicling the mafia’s undertakings in her hometown of Palermo, Italy, over the past thirty years for the independent newspaper L’Ora. Even the titles of her photographs are documentary in nature, comprising merely the dates and locations of the criminal activity or its consequences. Judges’ and politicians’ assassinations, Mafia-boss arrests, and the torment of victims’ families are the most common subjects of Battaglia’s images, many of which feature female figures. Though they conjure the grit of reality, the atmosphere of these photos is also theatrical, portraying organized crime just as it has been imagined in popular culture. The photos’ cinematic ambience and crisp focus make them seem almost staged. Although the images specifically denounce the invariance of criminals’ subjection of modern Sicilian society, the iconography of the photographs is so powerful that they seem timeless. Despite her persistence in the field of photojournalism, Battaglia transcends the label “Mafia photographer.” The collection of images on view, selected to give the sense of a retrospective, are as much a biography of Palermo, with its vitality and contradictory living traditions.