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September 10, 2017

Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink: 30 Amazing Photographs of the Roller Skaters in Florida in the 1970s

It was September 1972 when Bill Yates, then in his final year at the University of South Florida, had just purchased a medium format camera and, as usual, he was out riding around looking for something to shoot. He happened upon an old wooden structure built in the 1930s in what was then the outskirts of Tampa, Florida. The sign on the building read "Sweetheart Roller Skating."

Yates stopped immediately, met the owner, and easily got permission to photograph the skating action that night. As it was a neighborhood gathering place, with not many other nearby places to socialize, it must have been a bit odd for Yates, a stranger, to suddenly show up to take pictures of them skating.

“When I shot it, I was 26. I wasn't thinking about documentation. I was just seeing something that looked interesting and somewhat out of the ordinary,” Yates said.

In order to ingratiate himself to the community, Yates processed film immediately after leaving that first night, returning the following night with proof sheets to display for the patrons. In 1972, it was far from the norm to be able to see a picture the day after it had been taken, and seeing their own pictures enthralled the skaters.

“It's like they'd never seen themselves in a mirror before. After that, it was like I was their newest best friend,” he said.

Thus began the project that Yates continued through Spring 1973, photographing almost every single weekend until he graduated from college.

(Images © Bill Yates)


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