Galerija Fotografija | Ljubljana, Slovenia
From the 7th - 30th October 2019
By Danielle Marie Hurren
When Battaglia first went out to shoot the images of her native city of Palermo, it was seemingly not with a glass lens inserted into her camera, but a Perspex one that was acting as her separation between self and the city. Out she went to capture all the garish bright and cheap thrills of lipstick and blood, brutalism and Brutus et tu?
This could be the title of her images, which from the 7th-30th October are on display at the Galerija Fotografija in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The collection exists as a collaboration between Battaglia and Roberto Timperi. They show a city where, to one extent or another, everyone is involved in the game. No one is radically free or not immersed. Whether in blood, or in bar. A woman laughs, cheap lipstick and a cheap night ahead. A man lies dead face down in an alley.
These are just a couple of Battaglia’s pictures which are on display as part of the ‘Festival Poklon viziji / Omaggio a una vision.’ A collection of her work and a lesson which comes in graphics the same colour as the bullets and the tarmac. The same colour as a world which remained shady in terms of legality, safety and rights of the citizens for the eighteen years in which the Corleonesi mafia ring controlled the city.
These were the years of lead, the anni di piombo, criminality which Battaglia refused to dress up in any other colour than black and white. For no other colour could make each moment of death which took place in this city, quite so anthological. Could make it quite so much about the citizens, about all of us.
And this she achieved through a reduction in the noise. It was through the cutting of every image down to the bare minimum that she ensured death was not tarnished by life. Through reducing the world in this way, Battaglia was able to make the violence fundamental and to do this in the cacophony of a world in which the shootings were not a single thing, but a myriad round of gunfire, cheap shots of the midnight grappa.
And there, somewhere in the mix-up, the quick-fire shots of Battaglia’s camera as she found a way to move into exactly the right place at exactly the right time and to click down the shutter of her camera screen.
In one image, a woman lies down in a chair, a friend slumped on the sofa. Another on the floor. Mafia killings. The photo titled simply, ‘A Prostitute and Friends, Killed by the Mafia.’
This is how she captured the world, making the abuse to human life as stark as it always should be by showing that a photograph is the isolation of a shot of time outside of all other surrounding stimuli. That life itself can never make itself that clear cut. Especially in a city, such as Palermo, seconds which would otherwise be mingled with the smell of the brioches from the Patisserie, the smell of hot sun on the tarmac, the sound of the cars honking.
Battaglia’s photography took the violence and poverty outside of this. Took it off the streets and placed in up on the walls. Such as in the exhibition space in which her work is being shown. And yet never did she lose the almost real time experience the viewer can gain of the Sicilian landscape. Because she cut our senses and so placed us inside those scenes. She made entirely sure we are assaulted by no other stimuli than the moment of her photograph.
This is how Battaglia captures the audience and captures the scene. Taking what must have been blurred and endless to those who were living it and bringing the lack of clarity to poverty or to violence into sharp definition. The cut of the pavements and the lines of the scars across faces, the childhoods that are experienced here – a cocktail of violence almost always brimming over.
In one image, a mother lies face up in bed, her young son staring directly into the camera, a still younger girl lying on her side in the bed. A whole other type of violence from a mafia killing, another way in which brutality may be inflicted on the human form, poverty. The filth of the sheets. The emptiness of the room.
The abuses of Palermo were not only the killings, but abuses to dignity, to the right to opportunity and by focusing in such a way on these moments of poverty and death, Battaglia brought clarity to the lives of the citizens, who through numerous reasons and factors, the blur of poverty, zero opportunity or educational ignorance, lived in moments which largely remained unclarified.
Until Battaglia arrived with her camera, that is. Arrived with her understanding that blood is sharper when shown without the drama. Just as the sharpness of an image of a child at play, an image which almost devastates because of its reality. No need to hang bells on the poverty when there is this level of directness. The way the child looks directly at the camera. The way she seems far older than her years. Only a wall can be seen behind, but the poverty is palpable. And so is the child’s right to play. That she plays among these streets. That there is still life and fun here.
And this is the power of Battaglia’s work. That she shows what a fine line indeed it is between poverty and decadence, brilliance and bareness, enjoyment and pain. And this is why her work is so profound and the reason why it continues to matter.