Walking, running, cycling. Rowing, kayaking, meditating. This is how photographer Charlie Sublet has experienced the Yarra River since his mid-teens.
As a schoolboy he rowed in fours and eights, usually between Gardiners Creek and Westgate Bridge. On weekends and school holidays he would explore the river by bike, cycling along rough tracks around Kew.
During university days he lived in Richmond, conveniently near both the river and the Carlton United Brewery.
When he first took a keen interest in photography in the early 1990s, he photographed the Yarra from the banks opposite the Collingwood Children’s Farm.
Charlie’s interest in the Yarra was the focus of his second solo exhibition, held at RMIT in February 2005. His aim was to
“examine the inherent beauty and constant state of flux that exists between the natural and man-made worlds within two distinct yet linked Yarra River locations: Yarra Bend Park and Docklands.”
The 38 photographs contrast natural and industrial settings. The black and white, almost sepia Yarra Bend photographs were mostly taken between the Yarra Bend Public Golf Course and the Fairfield Boathouse and then up to the Chandler Highway.
The colour photographs of the Docklands, washed with an aqua hue, are not of the new high-rise apartments but of fenced off areas, of asphalt, and of old towers.
Contrast and influence
Sublet makes ironic observations of how nature and the man-made environment co-exist. Some of the Docklands photographs show plants against the backdrop of a seeming barren landscape.
Some of the Yarra Bend photographs show drains and pipes and poles almost hidden within the natural setting.
In the black and white photographs, Sublet says he aimed “to, in part, create a romantic type of feel reminiscent of late 19th century landscape imagery which often made use of sepia toning.
His work is influenced by the late Ansell Adams, of the United States, whose work, from the mid 20th century, included stunning black and white prints.”
Another influence upon Sublet is the late Peter Dombrovskis, best known for his Franklin River photograph of Rock Island Bend. “I love his attention to detail and his exquisite colour. I also like his way of operating. He would take extended walks through the bush, with heavy equipment, but saw no need to photograph everything. He was very selective and would sometimes return after many days having taken no photographs at all”
Sublet is selective in the particular stretch of the Yarra that he savours. An old park bench about ten minutes walk from the Fairfield Boathouse is a favourite place of his, with the water below and the city landscape in the distance. When he’s not jogging or walking along the river with his dog Zed he’s happy to sit here and enjoy this “great spot”.
Sublet has also taken to the water again recently, joining a local canoe club. “I haven’t ventured far but it’s another way of enjoying the river. The perspective from the water level is refreshingly new and quite beautiful.”
Story by Vin Maskell, 2005