Southern photographer Bill Yates says a change is gonna come, again

Bill Yates urges us to step away from working on our selfie game.

Florida-based photographer Bill Yates embraces his “old school” approach to the craft, resurrecting his early-’70s series Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink to draw comparisons between then and now. Although how 1972 Tampa relates to 2016 Atlanta and the nation as a whole might not be immediately apparent, Yates urges us to step away from working on our selfie game to have another look. CL spoke with the artist via email.

How do you think roller rinks embody the spirit of the South in the 1970s?
Bill Yates: In small towns in the ’70s, there was often one place where all the young people congregated socially. The roller rink symbolically represents that place for any small American town. When people view this work, it dials back memories of their first kiss, the first boyfriend and many other classic “coming of age” events.

You mention in your artist statement how Sweetheart leveled the playing field in a socioeconomic sense. Could you elaborate a little on that? What would be the epicenter for that same treatment in 2016?
B.Y.: Youth of today use social media on the internet as the platform for social interaction. They experiment with their own identity using selfies, rather than as perceived or composed by others. These portraits, like those of [https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0ahUKEwjlrID0tOvKAhUIYyYKHR0KCN4QFggoMAE&url=http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2014/garry-winogrand&usg=AFQjCNGdLa18KXYfsDH8HoZOcsWYjOPEUA&sig2=qxBpCRzA2QFE_8kAGXzCxQ|Garry Winogrand] and Diane Arbus, resulted from a rapport developed between the photographer and the subject that is very different from the “selfie culture” of today. These people saw themselves through my photographs in a way they had never quite seen themselves before.

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How is this series from 1972 and 1973 important now? 
The ’70s was a time of great upheaval in the social fabric of America — the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the sexual revolution, drugs, rock-n-roll, newfound freedoms and experimentation. These images, presented in classic gelatin silver prints, revere the “old school” ways and simultaneously hint at all the change that is about to unfold.

Tell me about your current projects. How does the Sweetheart series influence those?
Currently I am working with Fall Line Press to publish a book on Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink that will debut in October 2016 with an exhibition at the Atlanta Celebrates Photography Festival by Mary Stanley Studio. 

Bill Yates will visit Atlanta Photography Group Gallery at 6:30 p.m. Wed., Feb. 17, to discuss Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink. The event is free.