Notable photojournalist Fred Watkins inspires students at FAMU

Freelance photographer Fred Watkins discussing his photos
Photo credit: Sydne Vigille

As part of the Knight Chair Speaker Series, photojournalist Fred Watkins visited Florida A&M University on Jan. 30 to give a photographic walk through history in the Meek-Eaton Black Archives.

Watkins has been a photojournalist for over 25 years in the entertainment industry, working for news networks like Fox, American Broadcasting Company (ABC), CNN and magazines like Jet, Essence and Ebony. Professor and Knight Chair Speaker Series coordinator Francine Huff wanted to share this experience with students.

“Fred Watkins has such a phenomenal body of work. He was present at a lot of important historical events and has covered so many politicians and celebrities. I wanted to expose students to someone who had been there for a lot of these iconic images and historical events that we read and hear about,” Huff said.

As Watkins showcased his work with audience members, he reminisced over a time where he was a kid living in New York City with his family.

Watkin’s father was a photographer who frequently asked, “Does anyone need to use the bathroom? I am going to go in and develop film.” One day, Watkins had followed his father into the bathroom where he began developing. “At that moment, watching the photo develop I was hooked,” Watkins said.

In college, Watkins studied social work while serving as the photo editor for the college newspaper and yearbook. When he graduated, he spent two years working as a social worker until he realized his true passion was photography.

He committed to his craft and started working in the Time-Life photo lab in New York City doing freelance photography, eventually receiving a contract with ABC as a lead photographer.

Watkins became a staff photographer at the White House Press Corps under president Ronald Reagan, but is still an active White House staff photographer. He has captured many celebrities like Andy Warhol, Janet Jackson, Natalie Cole, Miles Davis, and Elizabeth Taylor outside of the infamous Studio 54 nightclub in New York City.

Watkins credits his personality and work ethic as helping him maneuver into private celebrity photographing where he built close relationships with individuals like Mary J. Blige, Muhammed Ali and Mandela.

Freelance Photographer Fred Watkins discusses his photos.
| Photo credit: Sydne Vigille

Currently, Watkins is working on a project to sell one of his original photographs to a network that will publicize his photo on billboards globally. This determination was inspiring to video game developer Alex Jean.

“He had me considering taking up photography because there are so many opportunities in the field,” Jean said. “My favorite picture was the one he captured of Barak Obama when he first entered office. The setting of the event was very comfortable, he was humorous and relaxed talking to the audience.”

Watkins does not plan on retiring any time soon. Photography is his life time passion, hobby and job. He plans on furthering his photography career with several other businesses and networks.

“You have to always be ready to learn your craft. Find a mentor that will help you, don't be discouraged and don’t give up,” Watkins said.