PHOTOS: the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink

I had just purchased a medium format, twin lens camera and, as usual, I was out riding around looking for something to shoot. 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.


Now and again, you happen upon something that just leaves you stunned in utter amazement. Such was the case over forty years ago when I drove up to Sweetheart, and such is the case today, as I have recently unboxed the proof sheets and scanned all 800 negatives. Revisiting this visual time capsule — my vintage prints, editing the proof sheets and scans, printing in the lab for several up-coming exhibitions — so much has come back to me, especially how emotionally dynamic the rink scene was with all the young people. Remember, that was the fall of 1972 into the spring of 1973. Yes, “the times, they were-a-changin’” back then. The 1960’s and 1970’s were all about the “great upheaval in the social fabric of America” — the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the Sexual Revolution, the Women’s Movement, the counterculture, political protests in the streets, drugs, rock and roll, new- found freedoms, and experimentation. These kids were in the thick of it.

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