ROLLER SKATING IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH, 1970S via Dangerous Minds
In the summer of 1972, photographer Bill Yates, having completed a stint in the Navy, took a workshop that lasted one week with the legendary street life photographer Garry Winogrand. (Fun fact: When I want to make note of an upcoming band to catch, cookout to attend, or guest soon to take over my couch, I write the information in my 2015 Metropolitan Museum of Art Garry Winogrand wall calendar.) That session likely was ideal preparation for Yates’ first encounter with the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in a rural section of Hillsborough County known Six Mile Creek, east of downtown Tampa.
“I had just purchased a medium-format, twin-lens camera, and, as usual, I was out riding around looking for something to shoot,” Yates remembers. Having spotted the Sweetheart, Yates approached the proprietor and asked whether he could shoot it, only to receive the following reply: “Sure, but if you want some good ones, come back tonight—this place will be jumpin’.”
Yates learned soon enough how right that man was. He showed up with his Mamiya C330 and a Honeywell Strobonar flash and shot all eight rolls of the Tri-X 220 black-and-white film he had brought. Later, he stapled them to the wooden walls of the rink, so that his subjects, most of them cocksure teenagers and exuberant children, could see themselves in action. Seeing the pics decreased their innate suspicion that Yates was interested in catching them out, and soon enough the young roller skaters were mugging it up in front of his camera. “All of a sudden, I was their newest best friend,” says Yates.
Curiously, his Sweetheart photographs were enough to gain Yates admission to the Rhode Island School of Design, where—regrettably—he was encouraged to leave such playful documentary shots behind and “start from scratch.” Only recently, as he entered his sixties, did Yates think to return to those old pictures and present them as a show.
The exhibition “Bill Yates: Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink” starts October 3 at theOgden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. Be sure to read Chuck Reece’s compelling article about the Sweetheart photographs at Bitter Southerner.