I happened upon an old wooden structure built in the 1930’s in the Six Mile Creek area of rural southern Hillsborough County, Tampa, FL. The sign on the building read “Sweetheart Roller Skating.” The owner was just driving up. “Mind if I shoot some pics?” I asked. “Sure, but if you want some good ones, come back tonight –- this place will be jumpin’.” That weekend in September 1972, I ran eight rolls through the camera. After that I photographed nearly every weekend until late spring of 1973. I was twenty-six 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 for the first time, as though they had rarely seen photographs of themselves — they couldn’t get enough. The skaters became like actors parading their bodies, confronting one another, competing for an audience -– the camera. Though the 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. Then later on, in the spring, I became more of an insider. A few of the rink regulars invited me to come party with them in an old trailer deep in the orange groves. After that, I saw them in a completely different light. That invisible barrier between photographer and subject dissolved — along with my objectivity. My last photographs at the rink were shot in late April or early May. I boxed up my negs and proofs and moved to Providence, RI, to begin graduate work with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind at RISD in the fall of ’73.
Bill Yates has been photographing since he was given his first camera, a Kodak Brownie, at the age of ten. Yates graduated from the University of South Florida with a B.A. in Art and Photography following duty in the Navy. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree in photography from Rhode Island School of Design in 1975 where he studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. He also studied with Garry Winogrand as well as other master fine art photographers. His work was juried into the 1975 Artists’ Biennial Exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art. That same year he had a one-man exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., curated by Jane Livingston. Group and solo exhibitions followed. His photographs are held by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, as well as numerous corporate, private, and non-profit collections. Yates’ photographs were selected to be a part of the first cultural exchange to China through what was then known as the USIA (United States Information Agency) following President Nixon’s 1972 historic visit there. He also received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to curate and assemble a traveling exhibition of Florida’s emerging photographers. Yates was curatorial consultant for photography to the Corcoran, and director of the University Gallery of New Mexico State University. Yates maintains a studio in the CoRK Arts District in Jacksonville, Florida. He’s retired from shooting commissioned corporate aerial and environmental abstract imagery and is now editing his fifty-years as a shooter for a retrospective website soon to launch and traveling the South shooting for his blog Down Southern Roads.