When Letizia Battaglia was ten years old, a stranger flashed her on the street. It’s an event the Sicilian photographer, who’s dedicated 20 years of her life exposing the corruption of the Italian mafia, regards as the first of many incidences throughout her life where a man tried to remove her of her agency (as a result, her father locked her in the house until she was 16 years old). It would be the day of her 16th birthday that Battaglia, now 84, fell in love with the first man she passed on the street. It was an abusive relationship that would carry on until her early 40s, finally ending once she picked up a camera.
In Shooting the Mafia, filmmaker Kim Longinotto documents the life and work of the seminal photographer, whose unsettling yet beautiful images were instrumental in dismantling the romantic narrative painted of the Italian-born crime entity, cemented into history through films like The Godfather, Goodfellas, and most recently, The Irishman. “I wasn’t a real person,” Letizia Battaglia says of the days before she took up photography. An unhappily married housewife stifled by Italy’s ruling patriarchy, it was taking up photography that opened Battaglia’s life to the ruthless yet all-encompassing presence of the Cosa Nostra, becoming Italy’s first female photographer to be employed by a daily paper. “Your first murder, it never leaves you,” Battaglia says, recalling the first dead body she ever saw, just three days into her job at a newspaper in Palermo.