Down at the Sweetheart Rink
When Bill Yates was given a Kodak Brownie camera at the age of ten, it was the start of a lifetime of pictures. While driving around in 1972 Yates’ eye was caught by a wooden building near Tampa, FL. This was the start of a seven-month project as he documented (teenage) life at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink. I love how the rink seems like a universe in itself and the way everybody boldy looks into the camera. Proud and free. I wonder where they are now?
I happened upon an old wooden structure built in the 1930’s in the Six Mile Creek area of rural southern Hillsborough County, Tampa, FL. The sign on the building read “Sweetheart Roller Skating.” The owner was just driving up. “Mind if I shoot some pics?” I asked. “Sure, but if you want some good ones, come back tonight –- this place will be jumpin’.” That weekend in September 1972, I ran eight rolls through the camera. Afterthat I photographed nearly every weekend until late spring of 1973. I was twenty-six years-old. That first weekend I was met with curiosity and suspicion by the skaters. The next weekend I returned with proof sheets which I stapled to the wooden siding of the rink’s interior. For some, complete disinterest in the images. For others, it was as if they were staring at themselves in the mirror for the first time, as though they had rarely seen photographs of themselves — they couldn’t get enough. The skaters became like actors parading their bodies, confronting one another, competing for an audience -– the camera. Though the skaters may not have thought of themselves on a stage, they were no less explicit and physical in their stagecraft. Some of the scenes were unapologetically theatrical. Young men aggressively wrapping arms around their girlfriends’ necks, gesturing uncomfortably for the camera — a sexual come-on, an uncensored performance. Yet others were deadpan. I soon became wallpaper — I was there, but I wasn’t — just snapping the shutter. Then later on, in the spring, I became more of an insider. A few of the rink regulars invited me to come party with them in an old trailer deep in the orange groves. After that, I saw them in a completely different light. That invisible barrier between photographer and subject dissolved — along with my objectivity. My last photographs at the rink were shot in late April or early May.
Bill Yates talks about the work: