Fred Watkins: Guest of honor 2023
FRED WATKINS – PHOTOGRAPHER
Fred Watkins has been a professional photographer for over 35 years, has traveled worldwide and photographed celebrities and heads of state from Nelson Mandela to Muhammad Ali. He is the only African American photographer to capture all the United States Presidents from George H. W. Bush to Donald Trump.
He grew up in Armstrong Court, a low income housing development in Greenwich, CT where he was first introduced to photography by his father, Reverend Frederick Watkins, Sr. Fred practiced his hobby at Western Junior High School and was on the year book staff and in the photography club at Greenwich High. He graduated from Western Connecticut State University, where he honed his photography skills working on the yearbook and was editor of the school newspaper.
Fred started his career in the streets of New York as a paparazzi and worked in the Time-Life photo lab in New York City. He worked his way up doing freelance photography for Time, Life and People magazines.
While at Time Inc., he met and became personal friends with Gordon Parks, a renowned Life Magazine photographer, movie producer, poet, and composer. This relationship led to Watkins being able to photograph Parks during the shooting of the movie, Soloman Northup Odyssey, which was filmed in 1983 and was based on the book of the same name. That Life Magazine assignment led Watkins to another assignment traveling with Minister Farrakhan. The article appeared in Life Magazine in August of 1984.
Fred worked for Ebony and Jet magazines as a staff photographer for 20 years and is a member of the White House Press Corps. Among Fred’s most treasured assignments while working for Ebony and Jet was traveling on Air Force One. He was the first photographer to capture George W. Bush in his private quarters on Air Force One. He has traveled with Presidents Clinton and Bush to Africa, and with Jesse Jackson all through Brazil. Fred also traveled to Jerusalem to photograph the Gaza Strip and other historic landmarks. His most honored assignment was to document Nelson Mandela’s first tour of the United States after being released from prison in 1990.
Over the years Fred expanded his clientele to include ABC, ESPN, Pfizer, Miller Brewing Company, General Motors, Fox News, The National Football League and other Fortune 500 companies. He has been a “Good Morning America” still photographer from 1984 to present.
Fred was recently contacted by the Smithsonian Institute and is now in negotiations to have some of his photographs placed in the African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, DC.
In addition to speaking to civic groups, and to high school and college students, he also exhibits a small portion of his body of work in museums, colleges, libraries and other public and private spaces.