The 1970’s Roller Skaters of “Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink”


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Sweetheart Rollerskating Rink Series

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Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink

“I had just purchased a Yashica Mat at a pawnshop and as usual I was out riding around looking for something to shoot. I happened upon an old wooden structure built in the 30’s in rural southern Hillsborough County (Tampa, FL) – the sign read Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink. That weekend in September 1972, I ran 8 rolls through the camera. After that I photographed nearly every weekend until late spring of 1973. I was 26 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 – they couldn’t get enough. The skaters became like actors parading their bodies, confronting one another for an audience – the camera. Though the roller 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 in the latter months I became more of an insider. A few of the rink regulars invited me to several parties in an old trailer deep in the orange groves.

After that, I saw them in a different way. My objectivity had crashed. My last photographs at the rink were shot in May. I boxed up my negs and proofs and then moved to Providence, Rhode Island. These images have never been shown. Now and again you happen upon something that just leaves you stunned in utter amazement and has a major impact on your work. Such was the case 40 years ago, and such is the case today, as I have recently unboxed these images and scanned all 800 negatives, reliving those 7 incredible months of shooting.”

– Bill Yates


(All rights reserved. Text and Images @ Bill Yates.)

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