By Sarah Tietje-Mietz
Photo by Michael Hurn
A single chair sits alone in the black-walled studio, lit by only a few spotlights. Instead of stark and intimidating, it feels serene, warm, and safe. From this chair, many have opened themselves up to share their stories with the camera in front of them.
“We’ve blocked out for sound purposes and privacy all the windows so it’s just like… if I’m behind here, and they can’t see my face, its almost like talking to yourself, with a voice asking you questions,” Solon Quinn said. “It allows them to be really open about things.”
Quinn, a photographer and videographer, is referring to the deeply personal stories from survivors of sexual and domestic abuse he has been capturing. These spotlight interviews have been part of an ongoing campaign and collaboration with Vera House since 2011. In operation for over 40 years, Vera House is a Syracuse community organization which offers assistance and support to those experiencing a range of abuses. Quinn does this work free of charge.
Quinn approaches his work from a place of love, striving with each new project to give viewers new insight and the experience of a new perspective that can potentially change them. He does this without using forceful or aggressive tactics.
“I don’t associate getting angry with somebody or being right with somebody or proving somebody wrong… or shaming them as a success. I look at that as almost a greater failure,” Quinn said. “The truth is the truth… I feel like if what you have to say is so important and so right, and you truly have compassion for the people you are speaking about, including yourself, you want to leave somebody with something that is a seed, that can grow.”
Growing up in the Syracuse area, Quinn attended Bishop Ludden Junior-Senior High School. After transferring to Nottingham High School, Quinn began exploring capturing moments on film. He credits the environment of creativity and support there for helping him attend the School of the Visual Arts in New York City. He moved back to the Syracuse area after his mentor at SVA, Chris Newman, advised Quinn to either stay in New York or Los Angeles and get coffee for people in the film business, or, if there is support back home, to go and make a movie.
Quinn chose to moved back to Syracuse, starting Solon Quinn Studios, which has been producing photo, video and digital content in the Syracuse area since 2008. The goal of producing a movie is still at the top of Quinn’s list. His hope is to use the genre of a thriller or a drama to touch on social issues in a way that does not sensationalize domestic and sexual abuse.
Dressed all in black, with a camera harness on and at the ready, Quinn speaks with a sensitivity and quiet confidence beyond his 35 years. Admittedly not a fan of small talk, what Quinn does say reflects his thoughtfulness and kindness in humble way.
Quinn’s goal for his work with Vera House and other local organizations is to enact change and awareness beyond the bounds of the Syracuse area. Recently, one of the videos for Vera House, “Say Something: Chapter Two,” reached viral status as reported on LocalSyr.com. Calls and letters of support poured into Vera House, some from as far away as California.
Randi Bregman, Executive Director of Vera House, is continually in awe with Quinn and his work with survivors from all backgrounds, demographics and genders. She has seen a survivor open up and share their painful story of abuse for the first time ever, with Quinn.
“There was a trust and belief that her story would be told honestly and with the seriousness it deserved,” Bregman said. “I am so impressed and touched by how he holds and honors survivor’s stories.”
This admiration is mutually felt. Quinn connects personally with Bregman and Vera House in a special way. His personal views and work addressing issues of gender inequality meshes with their mission and work in the community by Vera House and by everyone who works there.
“I consider myself a leader, but I would be proud to follow her into anything,” Quinn said. “I think she’s a brilliant person whose ability to do their job and be also be a communicator is second to none.”
The honest passion Quinn puts into each project is only eclipsed by the talent and care in which he executes them. Each photo and video taken by Quinn is a chance to tell a story, to make a change, and to do it with love.