long-lost photographs of southern 70s roller rink teens
After sitting in a drawer for 40 years, photographer Bill Yates’ shots of Sweetheart Roller Skating rink in suburban Florida are being released as a photobook.
© Bill Yates 2016 all rights reserved
Back in 1972, Bill Yates was a 25-year-old photography student who'd spent the summer studying and working under iconic street photographer Garry Winogrand. When he returned to college that September, he was eager to begin working on his own senior project and started hunting for its subject matter. One fall afternoon, he pulled into the gravel parking lot of Sweetheart Roller Skating, an old wooden roller skating rink built in the 1930s on the outskirts of Tampa, Florida. Every weekend for the next six months, Yates shot roll after roll at Sweetheart, documenting the skaters' languid style, the rink's raucous energy, and a local slice of life in suburban 70s Florida.
Though he exhibited a few of the images at Washington, D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1975 and included them in his portfolio to gain admission to RISD's graduate program, Yates' Sweetheart images sat in a box for over 40 years. In 2013, he started looking back at his older work and scanned over 800 negatives shot at Sweetheart, submitting them to the PhotoLucida Critical Mass portfolio review. Since then, the project has enjoyed something of a second life: an exhibition of the images wrapped earlier this year at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and he plans to publish a new book of the images after sharing the project on Kickstarter. The book will include an essay by Alexander Nemerov, Chair of the Art and Art History Department at Stanford University, and nephew of iconic photographer Diane Arbus.
To Yates, the Sweetheart images are a "visual time capsule" — a window into the social fabric of the 1970s. The decade was marked by the ripples of movements and moments that shaped the 60s — civil rights, the sexual revolution, the Vietnam War and its widespread protests, women's rights and equality — as well as the shifting facets of drugs, music, and the counterculture. Suburban Florida might not have been the powder keg for these sociopolitical paradigm shifts, but Yates' friends and neighbors certainly felt their effects.
Sweetheart Roller Skating — as Yates captured so vibrantly in his candid, energetic photographs — was an important site of identity formation. Teens gathered to show off their style experiments, like tailored bell bottoms paired with bold belt buckles, rib knit crop tops, and skates decked out with pom-poms. They listened to music and let loose, discovering sexuality and their sense of being in small town America.
Sweetheart Roller Skating Kickstarter ends on May 5. The book will be released on October 1, 2016 by Fall Line Press, Atlanta.
Text Emily Manning
Photography © Bill Yates 2016 all rights reserved