Skaters turned photographers

Pro skater Neal Hendrix displays photos at UCLA's Kerckhoff gallery.


Neal Hendrix travel photos

Like many top pro skateboarders, vert veteran Neal Hendrix learned early on that travel is arguably the biggest perk of the job. Without skateboarding, visits to the world's four corners would have likely remained an unattainable dream. Lucky for Hendrix -- who started skating in 1985 and turned pro in 1991 -- not only was he good enough to go on tour, he also stuck with it through the years. And lucky for us, he eventually started taking pictures during his travels.

Nearly four dozen of those photographs will be on display at UCLA's Kerckhoff Art Gallery as part of an art series hosted by the university's Cultural Affairs Commission. The exhibition kicked off last Thursday, with food, drinks and a Q&A with Hendrix, and runs through Dec. 8.

For a few stories about his photos, check out the video. And for some background on Hendrix's passion with a camera, keep reading.

ESPN.com: What got you into photography?
Neal Hendrix: It started really gradually and turned into a huge passion. At first I was just blindly documenting being lucky enough to travel the world for skateboarding -- taking photos for my family and friends at home. I really remember the first time I went to China for skateboarding, in the fall of 2004, just getting lost in the alleys of Shanghai, and I just wandered for hours. I saw a ton of stuff I had never seen in my life. I remember seeing a guy pulling this giant load of scrap wood on a cart, and he stopped out of exhaustion and climbed up on top of the woodpile to take a nap. I had to search around for the best way to get a photo of this guy napping on top of his cart. It became a mission in itself. I got the photo, and a lot of more amazing ones on that trip, and the fire was lit.

Were you influenced by skate photographers?
I was and continue to be influenced by skateboard photography. Some of the top skate photographers have ended up being close friends of mine, and it was more their friendship and support of my photography that influenced me more than their art. I totally appreciate what those guys do, especially their technical knowledge, but I have also tried to do something completely different from what they are doing -- although 3 a.m. missions laying at the bottom of some stairs in Long Beach could possibly be comparable to trekking through urban Bangladesh, trying to get a good photo.

Any other photographers you like?
I see photographs I like every day, but there isn't one person or a book of photographs that drives me. I feel like I am more driven by places. When I learn about places, through reading, watching a movie or something on the Internet, I visualize the photographs that I would take there. Cuba and India are high on the list.

What's your favorite setup that works best with your interests?
I try to go to the most interesting, photogenic places with beautiful people going about their daily lives. My camera of choice is a Canon 50D with a 300 mm lens. I love the long lens for natural portraits. Sniping in the alleyways. Definitely, for the photos that I enjoy taking, you aren't going to be able to pull a lot of gear. One body and one lens is about as heavy as you are going to want to go when you are climbing up a favela in Rio, so I try and keep the gear to a minimum.

You think you'll go pro eventually?
I've loved that I have had more opportunities as a photographer recently, and plan on doing more with it. I have no idea if it will ever turn into a full-time job, but the passion is there and there is a lot more that I would like to do. Luckily, I have the coolest job in the world, being the brand manager for Woodward [action-sports camp], while still skating every day and riding for Elephant Brand Skateboards, so that means at this moment I don't have to lean on photography to make a living. There's still a ton of places I haven't been, so I can't stop now. Plus, I have a couple books I need to make first.

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