Make us your home page
Instagram

Review: Tampa skating rink a 1970s muse for photographer Bill Yates

Bill Yates has been a photographer for most of his life and has practiced many different applications of the medium. Visit his website, billyatescypix.com, and you'll see ravishing examples of his aerial photography, for example, beautifully framed landscapes lush with color.

Then visit sweetheartrollerskatingrink.com and you'll find an edgy portfolio in black and white that doesn't look as if it had come from the same lens. In a sense, it didn't. Yates, 69, shot that group of photographs more than four decades ago when he was a young man studying photography at the University of South Florida.

Images Yates captured at a skating rink in Tampa in 1972 and 1973 began accidentally, when he was driving around looking for subjects and found the Sweetheart. For many months, it was his private muse, a thing apart from class assignments. The photographs he took there were good enough and interesting enough to help secure his admission to the prestigious graduate photography program at the Rhode Island School of Design. Students there were advised to put away their earlier predilections, so Yates packed his in a box that waited in storage for years to be re-appreciated.

The photos have emerged to critical acclaim after he decided to haul them out and edit them. He began with 800 shots, 600 of them usable, and further winnowed the group down to 150. They are currently in an exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans that continues through Jan. 17.

Yates also comes to St. Petersburg on Dec. 2 for a talk at Green Bench Brewery.

The photographs have a familiarity to them, seemingly connected to work by Gary Winogrand and Diane Arbus, but they are unique. The children, teens and adults Yates photographed as they mingled and skated on weekend nights are not Winogrand's street photography, shot randomly and often without the subject's knowledge. Nor do they share Arbus' taste for the bizarre. They tell a story, like a documentary but without the preordained message of one. Yates shot what he found, and didn't realize fully what he had accomplished until a long time later. Not only were the photographs found, so was a small part of the past that reflected an era.

Picture this: In the late 1960s and early 1970s, orange groves and ranches still occupied swaths of Hillsborough County. Radiating from the downtown Tampa core were areas that still seemed more rural than even suburban. That was the world of the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink, located in a part of Tampa known as Six Mile Creek. It was home to working-class families, and the roller rink was one of the biggest weekend gathering places for the community. Tempting to say it was a simpler time, but there was nothing simple about it to look at Yates' photographs, in which angst and joy, swagger and ennui coexist.

The most compelling group is the photos of teens in various attitudes of strength and vulnerability. Sometimes both. A standout is the portrait of a beautiful young man, shirtless, with a pint of schnapps tucked into his jeans. He has to know he's a hunk, but something in his eyes begs to differ. Yates captures people skating around the circular rink in battered four-wheel skates, including one father holding a baby, which is probably now illegal, but the sidelines seem to be the places where he got to know his subjects.

What's true of the portfolio is Yates' refusal to be judgmental or even editorial. As the visitors got to know him, they took the presence of his camera for granted. The adults mostly ignore him, the younger people love posing for him. That could be interpreted as an artificial aspect, but Yates lets them appear as they wished, on their terms. He may have been, as we are today, stunned by photographs of preteens smoking, but we see no evidence of it.

The rink is gone now, and who knows where the surviving people are; Yates kept no names. But they live on, in all their mystery.

Contact Lennie Bennett at lbennett@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8293.

>>If You Go

Carousel No. 5

Carousel No. 5 is the latest in a series of events in which a group of photographers presents its work via projectors. There also are question-answer segments with guests. Bill Yates will be among the participants. Carousel No. 5 takes place at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at Green Bench Brewing Co., 1133 Baum Ave. N, St. Petersburg.

Review: Tampa skating rink a 1970s muse for photographer Bill Yates 11/18/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 11:18am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 19: A peregrina spends the whole day under the weather, and part of the day under the table

    Travel

    Day 19: El Burgo Ranero to Puente Villarente: 25.4 km, 7.5 hours (Total for Days 1-19 = 454 km (282 miles)

    This list pretty much sums up my day:

    Eat two bananas

    Walk 13.1 kilometers

    Nap

    Walk 6.2 kilometers

    Nap

    Eat half an apple

    Walk 6.1 kilometers

    Crash< …

  2. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 18: Despite feeling ill, this pilgrim passes the midpoint in her 500-mile journey on foot

    Travel

    Day 18: Lédigos to El Burgo Ranero: 34.3 km, 12.25 hours (Total for Days 1-18 = 428 km (266 miles)

    Today was a struggle.

  3. Actor John Heard dies at age 72

    Blogs

    John Heard, who played so many roles in the '80s but was probably best known as the dad in the Home Alone movies, has died, according to media reports. He was 72.

  4. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 17: Think 11 miles of nothing but straight trail and open, flat fields sounds easy? Think again.

    Travel

    Day 17: Villarmentero de Campos to Lédigos: 33.5 km, 10.25 hours. Total for Days 1-17 = 394 km (245 miles)

  5. Tom Sawyer with a revolver? Twain house has live 'Clue' game

    Attractions

    HARTFORD, Conn. — Was it Tom Sawyer in Samuel Clemens' billiard room with a revolver?

    In this July 14 photo, actor Dan Russell, left, portraying the character Arkansas from Mark Twain's book Roughing it, responds to a question from 10-year-old Emma Connell, center, of Arizona during a "Clue" tour at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Conn. The tour allows visitors to interact with Twain characters while playing a live-action version of the board game. [AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb]