Working in Jerusalem: The image of success

"I didn't feel I was really an Israeli until I had done the army."

After 34 years in Jerusalem, Canadian-born photographer Douglas Guthrie still finds Israel an endlessly exciting place to shoot - with images as varied as the land and its people. Born in 1945 in Moosomin, Saskatchewan, Guthrie grew up in Brandon, Manitoba, and went to college in Saskatoon. After graduating, he taught school in Kamloops and Port Alberni, British Columbia, worked a brief stint with Canadian National Railways and in 1971 settled in Victoria, BC. Shortly thereafter he met the woman who was to become his wife. The rest, he smiles, is history. "My wife [Ruth] was in Victoria visiting her sister who had just given birth to her first daughter. We met. And that was it." Ruth had just bought a rusted-out VW Beetle for $25 and was at a mutual friend's place showing it off. Guthrie was smitten. "Both of us knew immediately that that was it - that she was going to be my wife and I was going to be her husband," he recalls. "We talked until close to midnight, and then her sister came looking for her. "The next day, after a romantic walk along the beach and lunch, I asked her to marry me. She asked if I'd move to Israel. I said sure." The couple married in 1972 at Victoria City Hall, shelling out $7. In January 1973 they moved to Israel. Like many new olim, Guthrie embarked on his new life by enrolling in a tuition-free ulpan. Financial considerations, however, quickly forced him to join the workforce. "I got a job at Hebrew Union College as a staff photographer for the last three seasons at Tel Gezer," he remembers. Preparing expedition photos for publication for archeological reports was a dream come true for the history buff. In 1974, they moved to Iran (which at the time enjoyed strong ties with Israel), where he continued archeological photography at Susa - the famed biblical Shushan. They left two years before the shah was deposed. One dig led to another and the couple moved to Santa Katarina in Sinai for six months before moving back to Jerusalem for the birth of their daughter. Notwithstanding the romance of Near Eastern archeology, for Douglas and Ruth Guthrie those years also involved life's more mundane details - like raising a family, buying a house and serving in the IDF. Today their daughter Cory and sons Gideon and Shaul all live in Jerusalem, and they have three grandchildren. Guthrie was in Israel for five years before he got a draft notice. He served a little under half a year in the IDF artillery, firing mobile 155-mm. cannons, which he describes as oversized tanks. "I didn't feel I was really an Israeli until I had done the army," he says. While Guthrie has fond memories of his time as a draftee, his subsequent years in the reserves were less fulfilling. Like a typical Israeli, he grumbles about being called up for an annual month of reserve duty and the disruption it caused to his civilian life. He was demobilized in 1990 at the age of 45. "My wife was very happy," he grins. When the couple first made aliya, there were no private mortgages. In 1973 the family bought a 35-sq.m. apartment in Katamon Het, which was then considered a slum, for $23,000. Half the money came from a government mortgage, and the other half from a loan from the Canadian Zionist Federation. Guthrie remembers comparing the two-room unit to his parents' spacious riverside home in Kamloops, which they had purchased for the same price. "I was quite pissed off." Today he has a different view. "In retrospect, I know they were not living in Jerusalem." Still, "With three kids it was a bit tight," Guthrie winces. Over time, he was able to first rent and then buy the unit below to create a garden townhouse with a courtyard. Subsequently Project Renewal (a government agency to rehabilitate impoverished neighborhoods) allowed him to expand further, and the family's once-tiny abode developed into their present-day three-level 150-sq.m. home. The once seedy neighborhood of Katamon Het proved to be a good investment. Employment also worked its way out for Guthrie. As his reputation as a photographer grew, he landed jobs at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, the Israel Museum, the Museum of Islamic Art and the Hebrew University. "Photography was magic to me," Guthrie grins, recalling how at the age of 10 he started selling pictures of everything from wedding parties to traffic accidents. "Now and again I do a bit of museum work. Most of my work now is photographing artists and PR, a catalog, or something like that, as well as portraits," he says. At 61, he has no plans to retire. "It's fun to see how the photography business is developing. And I really enjoy the technology. I would never want to go back to film." While he keeps a studio in his house, digital photography has eliminated the need for a darkroom. Asked if his parents thought he was crazy for moving to Israel, Guthrie grins, "definitely." Their perception of the country was a backward place without indoor plumbing where one constantly dodged bullets, he says. But when they came to visit their grandchildren they were "blown away" by Israel's modernity, energy and rich culture, he continues. "In Canada you talk about 100 years of history. Here my parents laugh: History is 2,000 years or 3,000 years." Has Israel been good to him? "I'm very happy," he smiles. Though Guthrie never converted to Judaism, on occasion the family would go to Mevakshei Derech, an independent synagogue where his sons had their bar mitzvas. Like many Israelis, he defines himself as non-religious. "I'm a believer but I don't need a spokesperson to talk to God." Does he ever miss the true north strong and free? "Every now and again we enjoy going back to Canada and British Columbia, and renewing our relationship with nature and the Rocky Mountains, one of the most beautiful places on earth." But as for Jerusalem, he sighs, "There's no place like home."