Opposites part 4 — Bill Yates's "Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink" photos

 
 
This is not the photo one might expect to see in a documentary series about a roller-skating rink, and yet everything here that is unexpected is exactly what deepens the sense of reality.  Part of an amazing documentary series by photographer Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

This is not the photo one might expect to see in a documentary series about a roller-skating rink, and yet everything here that is unexpected is exactly what deepens the sense of reality.  Part of an amazing documentary series by photographer Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

From the Orlando Weekly:

“In September 1972, photographer Bill Yates was wandering the back roads of Florida when he stumbled across the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in Hillsborough County.

Every weekend, for the next 7 months, Yates documented the skaters, the go-go girls, the booze, the humidity, everything. He shot over 600 photographs, but the negatives were packed away and forgotten when Yates moved to Providence to go to school at the Rhode Island School of Design. 40 years later, the photographer unearthed this amazing time capsule.”

Note the expressions on the faces of the onlookers, who feel something other than swept up by the moves of the dancers in front of them.  Their detachment and, in some cases, defiance opens up and deepens our sense of what is happening in the room.  Photo by Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

Note the expressions on the faces of the onlookers, who feel something other than swept up by the moves of the dancers in front of them.  Their detachment and, in some cases, defiance opens up and deepens our sense of what is happening in the room.  Photo by Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

In Lens Scratch, Yates describes the undertaking:

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.”

Here are a few more of Yates’s stunning photographs of the roller rink scene.

Photo by Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

Photo by Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

Photo by Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

Photo by Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

Photo by Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

Photo by Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

Photo by Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

Photo by Bill Yates.  Image via lenscratch.com.

Notice how the photos themselves capture emotions that are both opposed to and yet an essential element of this milieu.   Somehow, the idea of sweethearts roller skating together is deepened by glimpses of alienation, fatigue, defiant anger, booze, and cigarettes. 

A photo series that captured innocent hand-holding skaters with fawning smiles would have missed out on the deeper liveliness of adolescence, so deftly captured here where innocence collides with its opposite. 


Thank you for reading.