Artist of the Week Gaylin Davey ‘25 On the Significance of Space in Scenery 

The first time I met Gaylin Davey ’25, she asked me to be in her Swarthmore promotional video. She, like me, worked for the Communications Office. But, unlike me, she preferred to be in front of the camera. Rather, I opted for maintaining anonymity behind a screen and scribbling editorials into our digital database. 

I intently watched her approach the hoards of students cascading through Singer Hall as classes filtered out. She walked over. Ignoring my baggy pants slipping and hair soaking in wet clumps, she warmly invited me for an interview. Gaylin immediately impressed me with her infectious enthusiasm. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when I heard that she’s pursuing a film and media studies major at Swarthmore.

I was curious to learn more about what specifically drew Gaylin to the art of filmmaking. She explained, “I started when I was a kid. I loved to perform. Then in middle school, I did my first play and became obsessed with acting. In my freshman year of high school, I did my first professional play. It was an artistic rendition of Romeo and Juliet. Later in high school, I started filmmaking in a workshop that got interrupted by COVID. But, I guess I always trace it back to when I was a kid, just making stop-motion animation of my toys.”

I jolted out of my Kohlberg high chair when Gaylin mentioned her interest in stop-motion animation. While she admitted they were not quite polished, I was amazed at her creativity. It’s an incredibly difficult form of animation that requires intense skill. As a prospective art major, stop-motion frightens even me. So hearing that Gaylin has taken artistic risks since childhood was, at the very least, inspiring. 

She continued, “When I got here, I started taking classes and I realized [filmmaking is] my career because I can work on it for endless hours and not get bored and tired and overwhelmed. I’ve pivoted into fully doing film and media and I worked at a local broadcasting network over the summer. That was especially nice because I feel like it’s now more of a realistic career for me, whereas it was definitely just like a dream when I started back in freshman year.”

Since she is undeniably passionate about film, I was intrigued by what exactly fascinates Gaylin about the subject. How does she find inspiration? Interestingly, she looks for spaces that could create a compelling dialogue.

“It’s these little moments I notice when I’m going out. I’ll see a space and think, ‘Oh, that would be perfect.’ Here’s one in my notes: I worked at this restaurant that had this sushi bar, but there was this right angle on it. So people would sit on one wall and this other perpendicular wall, and I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be cute if two people on either edge grab the sushi pot at the same time or the soy sauce at the same time and just have a conversation?’”

Gaylin continued, “Here’s another. It’s a short comedy about two girls waiting outside on a hospital bench and the people with various maladies that stopped by. And then [I want to create a film about] this tradition I learned about during my semester abroad called toasts, or twelve pubs of Christmas, which usually involves people dressing up in Christmas sweaters and literally going to twelve pubs. I think that’d be a fun setting for a movie. I guess there are a lot of comedies that come to mind for me. Yeah, I think my main inspiration comes from experiencing space.”

Admittedly, Gaylin’s approach surprised me. I had never considered space as an inspiration for creating art, which is peculiar because art is all about spatial relationships. I guess I’ve never written or painted a scene based on an architectural structure, but rather, molded my scenery around my subject. 

Fascinated, I asked her how she started viewing space as a character in her filmmaking. 

“I guess I’m a very spatially aware person. For example, if I need to grind work, I go to very specific spaces – I will not use my room for studying at all because it’s not a focus space. I would go to Underhill [Library] for psychology readings, and I would go to Singer [Hall] for chemistry homework. I think space is integral to the way that my brain functions.”

Naturally, I wanted to know what spaces on campus intrigued Gaylin the most for her future projects. 

“I like the cherry blossom grove. I’ve been brainstorming for my capstone and I want to use Crumhenge as well. And actually from my Reading Nature Digital Storytelling class last spring, I was fascinated by the Italian watergarden ruins in the Crum.”

Needless to say, a space can be beautiful, but, ultimately, careful filmmaking and editing are necessary to create a cohesive and compelling narrative. So, I wanted to know more about how Gaylin approaches editing. 

“I tend to do things chronologically and I’ll go scene-by-scene, jumping back based on whether I felt something was working or not. And when it comes to the more creative projects, it’s a lot of weaving in and out especially if it is something like a music video. I think finding unexpected beats in the music is a fun way to change to another segment or clip or scene.”

Gaylin elaborated, “Timing is really important. For instance, I’m currently filming super short interviews with basketball teams for my off-campus internship and a key component to the project is learning how to work with people who aren’t necessarily actors. They are giving answers on the fly and we’re figuring out how to cut down their answers into what would be entertaining to watch. A lot of it for me is learning how to work with the cadence of my performers.”

As we finished our interview, I started to understand why Gaylin sticks to a visual initially: she creates a narrative based on the “cadence of her performers” and how they’ll interact with their surroundings. Since she’s done improvisational work before, Gaylin has become accustomed to the acceptance that film is a delicate medium: each element has its rhythm and they work together to create a coherent melody. But the parts all need to be equally strong. 

When I grab my brush to paint, I rarely consider the easels next to mine, the height of the ceiling, or whether or not the piece will fit the space I present it in. Gaylin’s approach begs us to consider our place in the broader fabric and the mysticism associated with a meet-cute over sushi pots. Simply put, maybe we all would benefit if we saw the spectacularity in simple scenery. 

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