They were there to skate, dance, have fun.
September 27, 2015 7:10 AM   Subscribe

In 1972 & 1973 26 year old photographer Bill Yates shot scenes at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in rural Florida. Then he moved away to attend the Rhode Island School of Design, eventually becoming well known for his aerial photography. Forty years later he dug out the negatives from the fall and spring he'd spent hanging out at the rink, and began scanning them. Video of the artist discussing the work on his website for the project.
posted by Cuke (30 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
My best friend grew up with a place called Skateland as the backdrop for most of her teen socializing and melodrama. Although it was mid eighties in suburban Detroit. The big hair and acid wash...I'm sure many of the poses would have been the same. Great stuff. You know how old photographs smell? I kept having an olfactory hallucination, I'd guess you'd call it, looking at the Sweetheart--old photographs, and to a lesser extent my memory of the the smell of a roller rink. I'm also kind of jealous. I want to be there. I want to know the young shirtless man with the liquor bottle stuffed down the front of his trousers! (I don't know what you heard, but he is clearly a cool dude.)
posted by apis mellifera at 8:15 AM on September 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I kept having an olfactory hallucination

Mine are auditory. I keep hearing the organist come over on the P.A. system to announce "Couples Only".
posted by radwolf76 at 8:22 AM on September 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Bitter Southerner posted about these recently accompanied by a really nice essay exploring the social context of the photos in more detail:

But more importantly, McCabe says, Yates’ photographs constitute “an almost-lost body of work” that is highly representative of a key moment in the development of photography as an art form.

“Bill was obviously influenced by Garry Winogrand,” he says, “in that he seems to be shooting the secondafter the defining moment. The way he used flash reminds me of Diane Arbus. His work also reminds me of the way she was exploring subcultures and subsets of society. It’s street photography, but taken inside, in a skating rink. It works on so many levels.”

One of those levels, McCabe says, is about Southern history.

“He caught Florida at this transitional period, a year after Disney World opened,” McCabe says. “That was the last gasp of the old Florida.”

To my eyes, Yates’ photographs speak to a moment in the South’s history I lived through myself, a period when the youthful rebelliousness of the 1960s finally began to shift the attitudes of kids in the rural South.

posted by mediareport at 8:25 AM on September 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


Has anyone recognized themselves or someone they know in the photos, yet?
posted by mantecol at 9:12 AM on September 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel like the 70s were the most shirtless period in our nation's history.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:18 AM on September 27, 2015 [19 favorites]


That boy with the peppermint schnapps looks like such wonderful bad news to a teenage girl. I know I would have been half in love with him. I bet he already had a trail of broken hearts behind him.

There was a Rollerworld in my hometown and I was so anxious to get old enough to learn how to skate for real. I was absolutely terrible at it as a kid. I had to mince around hugging the walls. Eventually I would just weasel over to the arcade sections and hang on to a Galaga cabinet for dear life. But when I got to be a teenager, the place was "too dangerous" for me to be allowed to go, or for any of my friends to really dare going. (I now understand that "too dangerous" meant "too black," but at the time I didn't know to push on this.) The place closed, and got demolished about ten years ago, but there's still a rusty half-sign proclaiming WORLD.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:20 AM on September 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Henceforth, a bottle of peppermint schnapps shall be known as a "Florida T-shirt."
posted by key lime guy at 9:22 AM on September 27, 2015 [24 favorites]


I was their age at that time, and a lot of them look like friends of mine from back then. It's kind of creepy, in a way, especially when I start mapping how my friends ended up onto the kids in these pictures.

Even for the early 70's, that has to be one of the dumpiest skating rinks I've ever seen, though. It looks more like a stable than anything, especially with all the "animals" running around.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:27 AM on September 27, 2015


I need a poster of "Pepsi-chuggin' kid who looks like she is also force-choking someone".
posted by selfnoise at 9:34 AM on September 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


She's great. I think she may actually be a little person. It's just a guess, though; something about the face. She looks hardcore.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:38 AM on September 27, 2015


The younger kids in these pics could have been me; I was about 10-11 years old then, and the brand new roller rink near our neighborhood was definitely the hangout for the cool kids (and those who aspired to coolness, like me). I was about 400 miles north, though. I can't get over how young some of those kids with cigarettes dangling out of their mouths are; but then I remember that many of my friends back in the 70s who smoked started when they were 12-13. I wonder where those folks are now.

That boy with the peppermint schnapps looks like such wonderful bad news to a teenage girl. I know I would have been half in love with him. I bet he already had a trail of broken hearts behind him.

Yet in one of the pics on the photographer's website he looks totally gobsmacked as a girl is giving him a peck on the cheek. His buddy with the gun is kind of scary; I bet he did not fare well in the long run.

Had these kids lived in Santa Monica, California, some of them would have become Z-Boys shortly after these were taken.
posted by TedW at 10:27 AM on September 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I recognize the Kitlinger boys in one photo. If I saw the whole set, I bet I could name more. That section of the swamps was more rural than a lot of the area, and still is. The ground isn't really solid enough for condos, so it's been fairly ignored, even now. We had a babysitter that lived out there, and it wasn't uncommon for a handful of parents to leave half a dozen kids at her house for the weekend, and we ended up at Sweetheart more than once. I was still sub hormone age, but the pictures make me remember it almost viscerally.

All Skate. All Skate. I can still hear the announcer. Ladies choice. The smell of cigarettes and pot, hot polyester and sweaty leather skates, and hormones and the ever present aroma of southern decay...and Brut cologne and Southern Comfort in a Coke can...yeah, the 70s was weird in the swamps.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 10:31 AM on September 27, 2015 [37 favorites]


Dead eyed middle finger girl, I'd like to know her story.

I wish roller skating was still common. They tore down my local rink and put a Walmart there. Then the Walmart moved across town to become a Super Walmart, so now there's an empty big box store where my childhood used to be. I'm probably the least coordinated person you'll ever meet, but skating made me feel graceful.
posted by Ruki at 11:14 AM on September 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


These are great photos. I wasn't even born when they were taken, but they are so immediate and visceral that I can almost smell the place when I look at them.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:43 AM on September 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I kept having an olfactory hallucination

Buh buh buh Benny and the Jets
posted by jamaro at 12:01 PM on September 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Most of these people are why teens in the 70s always looked scary to me.
posted by rhizome at 1:13 PM on September 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


One of those levels, McCabe says, is about Southern history.'

Interesting, I'll have to read that essay (I love the Bitter Southerner). I had the same impulse to history, but was going to comment that, apart from being better fed, the people in the portraits look very much like the FSA photographs taken just three or so decades before. Partly because they're black and white, of course, but more than that.
posted by Miko at 1:25 PM on September 27, 2015


I can feel the humidity in some of these.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:43 PM on September 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, the Gator McKlusky is strong with these young ones.
posted by valkane at 2:55 PM on September 27, 2015


Just to own a medium format camera at age 26 would have been amazing! - None of these kids could afford a Kodak Pocket Instamatic, that photographer is lucky he didn't get whacked upside the head with a bottle of schnapps by one of those little thugs and his camera never to be seen again!
posted by Yosemite Sam at 2:55 PM on September 27, 2015


apart from being better fed, the people in the portraits look very much like the FSA photographs taken just three or so decades before.

Yeah, I was struck by how many missing teeth there were for these quite young kids. It bespoke the kind of poverty where the only dental care was likely pulling a tooth
posted by tavella at 3:03 PM on September 27, 2015


...that photographer is lucky he didn't get whacked upside the head with a bottle of schnapps by one of those little thugs and his camera never to be seen again!

Not really. Folks love to have their picture taken, mostly, in social situations like these. I've shot thousands of rolls of kodak tri-x in southern locales far more nefarious than a skating rink.
posted by valkane at 3:05 PM on September 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


They weren't thugs, they were kids. Maybe not as lily white and pressed as kids you know, but kids none the less. Just because a kid isn't in a button-down with a mouthful of orthodontia sipping lemonade at the country club, doesn't make them any more likely to be violent criminals, and I find your assertion to be both offensive and absurdly punching down. Your privilege is really apparent in your perception that you inhabit some better social strata than they did.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 4:31 PM on September 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


Was anyone else disappointed that there were no photos of people on skates?

Still a good post, though.
posted by spacewaitress at 4:59 PM on September 27, 2015


Keep looking, there are some great shots of folks skating.
posted by mediareport at 5:36 PM on September 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


(The one at the top of the Bitter Southerner page is a fave, e.g.)
posted by mediareport at 5:54 PM on September 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe not as lily white

I don't know, on the shallowest surface they are pretty much my definition of lily white, though there may be more class implication in the "lily" part than I've considered. For me that phrase always just meant "completely white, intentionally purged of other colors," but I just learned that there's a lot more to "lily white" as a phrase than I had ever known.

Was anyone else disappointed that there were no photos of people on skates?

At first, I was like "where are all the photos of people skating?" but after a minute I realized that the scene was larger than the skating. I grew up in the 80s and spent a fair amount of time at our roller rink, and would say that yes, you were skating for, at best, about 50% of the time. The rest of the time you were socializing, gossiping, playing arcade games, getting pizza, doing your hair in the girls' room, chatting, flirting, waiting out the specialized skate rounds (couples only, Hokey Pokey) and generally making the scene. And that's if you were a good kid; if you weren't, you were outside smoking cigarettes, drinking, and playing craps. So I think he captured the full scope of activity.

Someone also mentioned how this rink looked like a barn. I think it pretty well represents what most skating rinks were like up until the 70s, when they got more finished and corporate. Lots of places had really basic skating rinks, that were like enormous gyms with wood floors and an organ, before that. Most have not survived, but based on what I've seen of tourist history, a wood-floor, barn-like skating rink was more the standard than not until the 70s.
posted by Miko at 7:49 PM on September 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think one of the most significant things about these pictures as a document is that the rink is pre-Disco.
posted by rhizome at 8:14 PM on September 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Our rinks in the Midwest, felt more like parking garages or suburban basements than barns. These looked so very rural.
posted by Windopaene at 9:07 PM on September 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's so nice to be reminded of a time when people weren't constantly looking at their phones.
posted by JanetLand at 5:32 AM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


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