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SAM director David Gaimster’s best life

David Gaimster’s best life, SA Life, November 2023

South Australian Museum chief executive David Gaimster walks us through his love of vintage tintype photography, Mark Twain, and the latest Chrissie Hynde album.

Dr David Gaimster. Photo: Sia Duff / South Australian Museum.

Describe the best moment of your life.
Not one single moment, but the births of my five children have all been special and indelibly printed on my memory. The moment you hold a child for the first time gives you a reason to exist, like no other moment in life.

Describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten.
Being born in Halifax in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Yorkshire pudding forms an essential ingredient in some of the best meals that I’ve ever eaten. My joy in food is in cooking for others; here again, not a single memory but a conflation of many happy remembrances, mainly high days and holidays. Nothing much compares to that level of personal satisfaction.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
I’m terrible at recalling the advice I’ve been given, but I’m much better at remembering historical quotes that have stood the test of time. I’m an admirer of Mark Twain, who once advised that “the secret of getting ahead is getting started”. I love Twain’s directness and clarity of thought, particularly when you are faced with complexity and having too many options.

Tintype of Amy and David Gaimster. Photo: Adrian Cook.

What is the best photograph you have?
Inevitably, as a museum director, I have my own collecting interests. Possibly the most precious is my collection of historic family photographs, which contains early ambrotypes and tintypes using the wet plate collodion process that enabled first mass portraiture. Last year my wife Amy and I had the opportunity to sit for our very own tintype portrait, which was taken by Adrian Cook in Auckland. These images are captured onto sheets of aluminium plate or glass to produce a unique and timeless image.

What are the best qualities of your favourite person?
Obviously, my wife Amy, who has the understanding and patience of a medieval martyr saint in putting up with me. The main thing is she keeps me grounded, which is one of the factors in a successful marriage.

Best five songs on your playlist?
I love contemporary classical piano, which can be so electric and therapeutic at the same time. Currently, I can’t stop playing Peter Broderick’s recent album Piano Works Vol.1, which includes Eyes Closed and Travelling. The echo chamber effect is mesmerising and possibly the best drive-time music ever, even on the bus.

The aria that haunts me always is Marietta’s Song in Korngold’s opera Die Tote Stadt (the Dead City), which struck such a deep chord in post-WW1 Europe. Soprano Renée Fleming’s interpretation is simply hair-raising.

Moving to something a little more contemporary, Van Morrison’s backlist is inexhaustible. The Essential Van Morrison is a great starting point as it contains all the iconic tracks and some lesser-known masterpieces, including Wild Night, which reminds me of the party I always wish I’d been invited to.

I do admire artists that just keep going, like Van and the Rolling Stones, but lately, I can’t fail to be impressed by Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, who has just released yet another album of great songs decades after her first hit Stop Your Sobbing. The Thin Line Between Love and Hate is one of the best diagnoses of a relationship that will never age.

And finally, there is the 50-year songbook of singer-songwriter and satirist Loudon Wainwright III. His examination of fatherhood in A Father and a Son, which includes contributions by his son Rufus Wainwright, is poignant, funny and meaningful to me.

Best-ever purchase?
My 1970 Omega Automatic men’s watch with gold hands. Classic mid-20th century design. I never feel dressed without it.