By Cassy Fiano-Chesser

A popular saying is to do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life — and it’s something that Mandarin photographer Olis Garber seems to have taken to heart. Garber, who is married and a father of two, moved to Jacksonville more than 30 years ago, and turned a hobby into a career that’s taken him all over the world. 


1. Tell us about yourself.

I’ve been a Mandarin resident for 32 years. I moved down here from Atlanta and started working for Blue Cross. I’ve been doing photography for 41 years, and for the last 10 years, I’ve been doing it professionally. Overall, I love to do things like landscape and wildlife, while professionally, I like to do classical portraits, architecture, and products. I also teach photography, in terms of conferences, in places like Anchorage, Alaska, Washington state, and Victoria, Canada. I’ve also put together photography expeditions for family and friends, like to Iceland, and I just recently came back last month from the Canadian Rockies. I also did portraits for the Mandarin Historical Society; I asked each one of them to pick their favorite location in Mandarin, and write a short article about it, which went with the portraits for the society’s website.

2. Was it a big adjustment moving from Atlanta to Jacksonville?

Yes. In Atlanta, we loved restaurants, and just all the variety of food there. The thing that was a negative about Atlanta was the road system, and traveling — just to get anywhere was about 45 minutes. When we first moved to Mandarin, they had not yet completed the four lane of State Road 13; it was a two-lane. We loved the ruralness and the feel of it. I think that kind of ties in with the landscape that I like to do. Now, everything is relatively close and easy to get to. But we still live in an area where we can have trees around, and I just love that feeling. 

3. How did you get started in photography, and why do you love it so much?

I had a career in IT, and I just needed something for the other side of my brain. I love traveling to new and different locations; three years ago, I went to South America. I love going with friends. I like to put together really detailed plans. I’ll go to Google Earth, pick all the locations we want to see, do research like understanding the tide conditions, the sunrise/sunset times, the direction of light. And I lay really intricate plans out, and see how closely I can come to execute them. 

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4. What are your favorite places in Mandarin to photograph?

The church over on Mandarin Road, the one that was damaged by the hurricane, in ’74, I believe? That’s a beautiful location on the river. Also, the post office, and the buildings where the historical society is. It’s those old buildings where you get the flavor of what Mandarin used to be. The image that I shot for the Mandarin Art Festival is 100 yards from where I live, and it gives you a hint of what Mandarin used to look like, 40 – 50 years ago, with the tree cover that we have.

5. What do you like to do for fun?

I’m married and I have two daughters who also live here in Jacksonville. I have a grandchild now, and being around him and watching him grow — that’s been a lot of fun over the last five months. I like technology, and I like keeping up with changes in photography and trying to stay on top of that. I also love lightning. I’ve done several shoots here, on the St. Johns, where you get shots of the downtown skyline, or I’ll go to the Gulf Coast and during the summer, thunderstorms will roll in from the Gulf. There’s a position I like to go, where I can get a vantage point where I go due south, look at the Milky Way above, and capture the thunder and lightning. I try to catch that from sunset through the night, so I get a transition of these beautiful clouds side lit by the sun setting in the west, with lightning bolts coming in and the stars above. And ultimately, my job now is my hobby, what I’m really passionate about.



Photo courtesy Olis Garber

Olis Garber and grandson.


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