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Campus life: Sergio “Checko” Salgado

By Nicole Soto
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Sergio “Checko” Salgado, Professional Photographer, Punker and Professor

He is a professional photographer, a student and plays the bass in three punk rock bands. According to he is also one of the top professors at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

His name is Sergio Salgado, but everybody calls him Checko.

“I’ve always liked being involved in anything that’s active, whether it’s dance, music, anything where there’s energy. I want to be there shooting it,” Checko said.

This conversation took place in the photography studio where Checko teaches. It’s his classroom, his office, his domain.

The studio is not huge but he makes the space work. All of the equipment is organized along the walls. There’s background sets on either end of the classroom with multiple rolls of colored paper. Everything has a place and he makes sure students know that.  

About half of the equipment is provided by the school but the rest of it is Checko’s.

He brings in his own tripods, lenses, light stands and even cameras for his students to use. Each one has a story tied to it. He even remembers the price of every of equipment he’s ever bought and tells students where they can get it.

When there isn’t enough equipment for everyone Checko busts out his “ninjanuity” as he calls it. He can make a perfectly functioning tripod out of multiple pieces of equipment.

“A lot of it is improvising. You got to know what to do,” Checko said.

Checko just turned 46. He is married and has a 7-year-old son.

Photography was just another part of Checko’s world growing up. His father was a photographer and had a homemade darkroom.

“It was around the house so I just started doing stuff,” he said.

Although the equipment was always around, Checko had to learn the basics on his own. He’d recall times his father would come home with flashes and was curious about what they did.

“I would kind of mess with them when he was gone, I didn’t know what I was doing, he said.”

Checko is a Las Vegas native.  He grew when the city was not very child-friendly. There was no Wet and Wild or Adventuredome.

“We had to make our own adventures,” Checko said.

For him those adventures centered on photography. Checko started telling stories with photos. He would make animations and at 10-years old he would make movies.

Then, in 1985 he discovered punk rock. After going to a number of shows with his best friend Greg Higgins they decided to make a magazine. Of course they needed photos so Checko took his sister’s camera and started shooting the shows.

“Ultimately I was documenting that scene, so that really pushed me,” Checko said.  

In 10th grade Checko and Higgins started a punk rock band named Schizoid.

Higgins recalled the beginning of Schizoid and working with Checko.

“He’s always been just a really open, warm collaborator and contributor. We were just digging our teeth into everything we could and he was coming up with the best stuff,” Higgins said.    

Schizoid still gets together about once a year to play shows. Checko is also in a band called Lady and another one name Orale, which is Spanish for right on.

During his college years Checko moved around a lot. He went to Oakland for a little bit and got all his stuff stolen. He then went to UNR on a scholarship to study writing and journalism. He ended up hating that but loving photography.

“I figured the images traveled farther than the written word. The image really travels around the world.

He stuck with it. He even made his own “gorilla dark room” out of milk crates and a refrigerator box. His house smelled like chemicals but it didn’t bother him.

“I loved it. It was like working on a car and being a grease monkey,” Checko said.

He went to Colorado for a little bit to study at the Art Institute.

“In spending that time there, I actually missed Las Vegas. We had a really good scene here,” Checko said.

That scene he’s talking about is that culture and network created by the kids who grew up making their own adventures.

“I came back and I was just a part of it. This is where I grew up. This was my city,” Checko said.

When he came back he ran a studio for a while and worked in photo retail. All the while he was still shooting bands, doing portraiture and eventually working for magazines.

He experimented a lot as well.

Some of his favorite photographs were taken at night in the middle of the Tuscan desert when he was shooting film. He shot cacti with light painting and long exposures.

“It’s all self-experimentation. Coming from a punk-rock theory that meant a lot to me,” Checko said.

When asked what was his best experience has been as a photographer, Checko had to sit back and think for a minute.

It was a tough question for him. He’s met a lot of people that he couldn’t have without photography. He’s been in situations he normally couldn’t experience.

His face relaxed and he smiled when he knew what his answer was.

“My best experience as a photographer is actually getting a job teaching,” Checko said.

It was intense for him to be offered a job without a degree teaching photography at a university. It really helped get him on his feet feet and get his abundance of knowledge and experience out there.

“One of the strongest things for me is being able to share that knowledge and hear other people’s stories,” Checko said.

He currently teaches two classes at UNLV, commercial photography and photography for graphic design.

The fact that he’s teaching isn’t a surprise for his best friend Higgins.

“He’s kind of made to teach, really. He has a lot of passion for what he’s into and it shows. I think to be a good teacher, that’s what you need,” Higgins said.

This passion that he’s talking about is something that is felt by most people who talk to Checko and especially by his students.

“I can tell that he’s passionate and that he wants his students to do well,” said Anastasia Maharani, a student in his photography for graphic design class.

“His style is just different. He’s more relaxed, super chill. He seems to connect with students a lot better,” said Cord Exum, another photography for graphic design student.

Reviews of Checko on tell a similar story. His passion, knowledge, love of teaching as well as learning has resonated with students.

Checko has heard of these reviews.

“My sincere love and passion goes into the classes. I want the best for the students so I hope that is the drive behind them leaving nice comments,” Checko said.

Along with teaching two classes, Checko is a student himself. He has an Associates degree in graphic design. He is finishing his last semester at UNLV and will receive a Bachelor’s degree in art history.

Checko has big plans for the future. He wants to have a gallery.

“I’ve always been into art as a kid. I was always making art. I love the history and the different types … I’m an art nerd,” Checko said.

By the end of this year he will have four exhibitions. One of them, the Basin and Range exhibition currently on display at UNLV, was picked up by the Nevada Arts Council and will travel for two years.

The work doesn’t stop for Checko. Stagnation is not in his vocabulary.

“I’ve never stopped doing anything. I’ve never been stagnant. If I’m not doing anything I always think, ‘what’s the next project going to be for me?’”

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