Photographer Fred Agho is all about exposure.
“Growing up, I saw doctors, lawyers, policemen, etc. So I could see myself doing something like that as an adult,” he said. “I was never exposed to engineering or any of the liberal arts. I truly believe kids need to see as many professions as possible. Not everybody has the discipline to become a doctor. I think we all can contribute to society, but we need to be able to see ourselves.”
As a kid, Agho was always “the guy in the family with the camera,” but he didn’t start shooting seriously until he was in college. He’d started out at community college with plans to become a pharmacy tech. But after a disappointing internship in which he felt like he wasn’t given the same opportunities to grow and learn as others, he changed course.
Agho worked his way into the University of Houston, where he played football and started taking photos of his teammates. He earned a bachelor’s in sports administration, but his true passion was in photography.
"I think we all can contribute to society, but we need to be able to see ourselves.”
All these experiences changed his plans beyond what he could have predicted. Now he says he’s glad they did. The Houston-based CoolxDad – known on Instagram as FUJIFRED – is a professional commercial and editorial photographer, who’s also done some photojournalism for NBC News. His client list includes Nike, FUJIFILM, Publix, SNKR App, Amazon, Premium Goods, and, of course, CoolxDad.
Agho is the cameraman behind many of our #BeACoolDad shots. For the first time, we’re putting him in front of the lens.
What was your first camera?
Fujifilm FinePix Z70.
So you’ve been a Fuji guy from the beginning. And now you’re a spokesperson.
From the jump! It’s funny, it’s full-circle, the whole thing. It was just a point-and-shoot. That’s crazy.
Reflecting back, what do you think has always been the draw for you in capturing people and taking photos?
I just enjoy connecting with people. I like meeting new people, connecting, getting their stories and then trying to convey their stories as best as possible. Everybody has something going on at every level… if I were to do a project with homeless people, I would get them in their best-looking form.
There’s 7 billion people on the planet. When you think of that number in reality, those people don’t even exist to you. So you’re going to go through life with so many people you never meet or see that are really real. So when I get these opportunities to meet these people and work with these people, they become real to me.
What are some of the most interesting shoots you’ve done?
When COVID-19 came around and that really put life in perspective. Because I photographed some people who lost their parents [for NBC News]. It was like five days before, they were talking to their parents, then they were gone. That was [a reminder], ‘Hey, life is very real.’
People were going to work and coming home dead.
Then I did some stuff for George Floyd [also for NBC]. I got to meet some of his friends and got a perspective of the kind of life he lived. The guy wasn’t an angel but nobody deserves to be killed. He became this polarizing person. It was interesting to get a perspective on who he really was. Overall, he was just a decent human being that had a hard life and got into some hard stuff.
It sounds like these memories represent some of the more emotionally difficult experiences.
Oh, yeah. Floyd’s friends said the crazy thing is their friend wouldn’t have wanted all this attention. He’s not that guy. He’d much rather have been the guy behind the guy cheering that guy on. For him to be as big as he was in his death, it’s completely the opposite of the way he lived, they said. He was a very to-himself guy, very shy, even though he was like 6’5”, 250 pounds, he didn’t like to stand out, he was very quiet, kept to himself. And now he’s one of the most famous names in the world for the past couple of years.
There’s something to having that access to people’s lives – it’s a responsibility and it’s a privilege.
Big time. You want to paint it true. You don’t want to skew it too much one way, you don’t want to skew it too much the other way. It’s just about trying to tell the truth the best that you can.
Photos by William Isaac
It sounds like what you like most about photography is the opportunity to see people for who they are – to hear about George Floyd as a real person, for example, rather than just a figure.
Do you think taking photographs has made you a better listener or heightened your capacity for empathy?
I won't say it's made me a better listener, but I’m a better watcher, if that makes sense. I can tell people's temperaments faster, and I can read rooms more quickly. I'm overall more personable because of photography. But [Floyd] has given me access to many lifestyles I wouldn't have typically experienced and has made me far more compassionate for the daily struggles.
Today, we're used to seeing so many images constantly, what do you think makes a photograph resonate? How do you try to capture something that really speaks to people and can have an effect, amidst all the other noise?
People have to see themselves or see something they feel is great! Right now my favorite photo is the overhead photo of Russell Westbrook on the floor yelling up at his opponent. I see that fire in myself, so I’m able to connect. People wish they had that fire, so they value him and that moment because of that. People have to see themselves, man.
Definitely. Let’s switch to fatherhood. You have two daughters, right? How old are they?
Yes. Milan is 9 and Yara is 4.
Was becoming a dad always part of the plan?
I was like, if I have kids, I’m going to have more than one. I love the fact that I have a brother and sister and I’m not alone in this world.
Once Milan was born, I was like, ‘alright, cool.’ You’re instantly realizing, ‘oh, snap, I’m on the hook for life.’ To this day I still call my dad for stuff – inspiration and knowledge – and I talk to my mom all the time.
What are the kids like?
The oldest one, she’s a goof. She’s 9, and I feel like they’re going into teen ages, so she wants to be to herself and do her own thing and wants to go on her friend dates and wants to chat with her friends. She wants to be in her own circle. She’s becoming aware of looking nice. She wants her hair to look neat, she wants to wear nice clothes.
She wasn’t into activities at first but now that it’s recent you can tell she’s trying and wanting to exceed.
Yara she’s more type A, gets it done, listens to what we say. She’s still testy here and there but overall she’s pretty chill. She’s been into her looks. She likes to look in the mirror. She is my girly-girl. She hugs me, asks me if I’m OK. She loves her daddy.
They’re both cool, they’re just, kids are really different. They’re all into their own stuff, it’s really interesting.
Does your older daughter have any interest in photography?
They both love the idea of shooting. I’ve seen parents specialize their kids real early. Sometimes you get a genius out of the situation, a lot of times, you just burn kids out. When they come to me, I let them see. I have a whole camera bag, if they come to me, I let them see it and use it and everything.
Reflecting back on those experiences and on your career, what are some lessons you want to impart upon your kids?
For my daughters, [I’ll say], ‘I want you to go the conventional way, because I just know what it can do for you, but you’re not a failure if you don’t go the conventional way.’ There’s other things. My daughter likes to braid hair and she likes to paint nails. There’s plenty of cosmetologists that can provide for their family and live a good life.
I love that I’m a person that 20-year-old version of me can look at and say, ‘Hey, he’s doing this and he’s doing OK. He’s taking care of his kids, he has a home, he has the things that society says that you need to have and he’s still doing it the non-conventional way.’ I love the fact that I’m that for somebody who’s 19, 20, 21 years old. I’m big on doing that for them. At this point, I’m still doing it for myself and my family but I understand the responsibilities that I have being in the position that I’m at for the next generation.
I love that I’m a person that 20-year-old version of me can look at and say, ‘Hey, he’s doing this and he’s doing OK.
Photos by William Isaac. Snag Fred's shirt here.
It sounds like your parents have had something to say about you going a sort of unconventional way?
Oh hell yeah! My mom is still telling me to get a [pharmaceutical] license. I’m sorry if I come off braggadocious but I’m like, ‘Mom I’m 37, I own two homes, I’m married to the mother of my children, I’m on the trajectory to retire. Like what do you want from me, lady?’
I get it. I totally get it now that I’m a parent. Before I didn’t understand… but she’s, like, ‘hey can you do this into your 50s, 60s?’ and I’m like, ‘Honestly I don’t know, but I see other people that are doing it so I don’t see why I can’t do it.’
I’m keeping the lights on.
You’ve done a few photo shoots for CoolxDad. Do any stand out for you and what’s it been like to shoot dads for this organization?
I like it. I really enjoy it. There was a gentleman who had a [coffee shop] on Main St. that we had the jazz going on in the back [Tio Fallen]… he had an interesting story, just different. He was like me, an entrepreneur but still a father, so me and him shared a lot of similarities. Doing what we do is going to take up a lot of your time, but you’re very much aware that your kids need you, and actually in this time and age they need you a little more, because the internet is crazy.
Tio is getting it done – doing it for the community. I’m big on that.