A picture can sometimes say it all, and photographer Terry Corrao’s new book speaks lifetimes. “Father Daughter” is an incongruent set of portraits woven with the common thread of familial love, presented simply in duotone black and white.
Corrao is one of three girls, born in Elgin, Ill., and raised in southern California and Texas.
“We were a typical family of that post-war generation, living the dream shared by many during the Eisenhower era,” Corrao wrote in the book’s introduction. “Illustrated magazines like Life, Look and The Saturday Evening Post were scattered about the house, and the black and white television was ever-present, always on. Mom and Dad entertained frequently and cocktail parties often commenced at a moment’s notice.”
In 1994, Corrao was living in Los Angeles, and “wasn’t sure which direction to go in” with her photography.
She studied at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, Otis-Parsons and UCLA.
She was inspired by photographers like Ruth Orkin (whose daughter became her close friend, in a twist of fortune); Morris Engel; Elliott Erwitt; Henri Cartier-Bressand.
She tended to gravitate toward people, she said, and a screenwriter friend gave her some advice: pick a subject and do a series.
“Those wonderful photo essays of the ‘40s and ‘50s … I was so influenced by those as a kid,” Corrao said.
Corrao’s self-searching coincided with the time when her father’s health was declining quickly due to Alzheimer’s disease, and she visited him for what would be the last time.
“It was an emotional drive home, alone in the car, as I pondered what I was about to lose: images of my childhood with Dad played back like pictures from an old family album,” she wrote in the book.
On the drive, she had an epiphany.
“Nobody’s explored father-daughter relationships like I remember mine,” Corrao said.
She set out to find fathers and their daughters and collect some of those fleeting moments of joy, tenderness and love.
Telling the story
“The project sort of became exploration of light, how it falls, how to control the camera,” she said.
She let the subjects choose their own locations.
“I was intent on wanting to capture the pureness of their relationship in their own environment,” Corrao said.
Sometimes, she would visit before to get an idea of the location and what the best time of day would be.
She shot on black-and-white film, first on a 35mm Nikon Nikkormat camera, then a medium-format Hasselblad — “no editing,” three to five rolls per family, she said.
“I was giving myself my own photography course on the run,” Corrao said.
She said she didn’t really keep notes during the photo shoots.
“I didn’t probe into the relationship and analysis,” Corrao said, “I was more interested in the picture telling the story.”
The photos are laid out simply in the book, on white backgrounds, with minimal text — just the year, names, occupations and location of the subjects. A later section adds a paragraph of exposition for each photo, but the real description can be found in the gazes and smiles of each person.
“I wanted people to be immersed by the photograph, take it in without distraction,” Corrao said. “There’s a very strong Texas gene in me that loves storytelling.”
A set of photos of Dorian “Doc” and Navah Paskowitz was especially memorable to Corrao.
Doc founded Paskowitz Surf Camp, and lived with his wife and nine children — eight boys, one girl — in a 24-foot camper.
Corrao spent the whole day on the beach with Doc and his daughter.
“He was so excited,” she said — usually people would want to photograph him with his eight sons; nobody had ever asked for it to be just his daughter.
“He (was) such a philosopher, had such strong ideas about living a healthy life, loving people, taking care of people,” Corrao said.
For another shot (J. and Zelda Grove, on this cover), Corrao had spent 15 hours in the birthing room with the family, and wanted to capture the moment of the dad holding the baby for the first time.
“They really dim the lights,” she said, and it just didn’t work out the way she had hoped.
The next week, she went to visit, and the right moment presented itself when the family dog laid a protective paw on the duo.
Did Corrao know that she had gotten ‘the shot’?
“Yes, absolutely you know when you got it,” she said.
The ephemeral nature of the photographed moments “adds a wonderful aspect to the book,” Corrao said. “A lot of these daughters I never saw again after I took their pictures.”
Some tracked her down in person, and some have reconnected on Facebook, like a Bolivian girl whom Corrao had snapped as a “stranger on the street,” in traditional dress with her father at a parade in New York City.
“It was such a fun journey, I almost didn’t want it to end,” Corrao said.
“When you work freelance in the arts, you go where the work is,” Corrao said. “It’s been crazy, it’s been wonderful.”
Corrao’s husband, Angelo, was a film editor, and they lived in New York and Los Angeles, traveling to Montreal, England, even Africa for shoots (where Corrao captured a father, his two daughters and a lion cub on the set of “To Walk With Lions” in 1998).
“The nomadic life I shared with my husband and his work sometimes took us to places with unexpected opportunities to photograph,” Corrao wrote.
Some subjects were famous — Al Hirschfeld, caricaturist for the New York Times and pianist Nina West; Hamilton and Margaret Meserve, son and granddaughter of Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”; model and actress Lisa Marie and her dad, Corky Smith, on the “Sleepy Hollow” red carpet.
The cover features Moses Pendleton, dancer and director of MOMIX dance company, launching his daughter gleefully into the air as they swim in a lake.
Some were family friends; some were just family.
Corrao’s daughter appears in the book, as does her daughter’s daughter.
Annemarie, pictured in a tranquil moment backstage with Angelo during a 1995 ballet performance, now lives in Waterbury with her husband, Dagan; their daughter, Isla, splishes and splashes in a river in their 2014 photograph.
“Her eyes twinkle with joy when she sets off on an adventure with her dad,” Corrao wrote in the book.
“The coolest experience next to giving birth to my own children was giving birth to this book,” Corrao said.
She was “on press” in Canada for the press check of her book, and “seeing those first signature pages … come off the press, see how beautiful those duotones looked, I confess I wept with joy,” Corrao said.
The book has already won an award — a silver finalist for large-format cover design in the Independent Book Publishers Association’s 2017 Benjamin Franklin Awards.
Corrao’s traveling for some book signings, and will spend a few months in Sicily, Italy this summer. Her granddaughter Isla will visit Italy for the first time at age 5 — the age her husband was when he left Italy to move to America; the age Annemarie first visited, too.
Now, Corrao splits her time between Alabama, where her son, Nick, lives with his family, and Vermont.
“After decades of the film business, we feel somewhat settled now,” Corrao said.