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Tracey Lind's Spiritual Quest To Capture 'Eroded Beauty'

Tracey Lind sees "American Beauty" (2005) as "a prayer for our nation." [Tracey Lind]
The red, white and blue chipped paint remains of an American flag were found on a wall in the abandoned Warner & Swasey building on Cleveland's near eastside.

A new photo exhibition, "Eroded Beauty," features images of battered buildings with flaking paint and broken concrete. These pictures of deterioration have a deeper spiritual meaning for photographer Rev. Tracey Lind. She served at Cleveland’s Trinity Episcopal Church for nearly two decades before stepping down four years ago due to a diagnosis of early-onset dementia. In a recent conversation, she discussed the connections between her life and her photography.

Lind’s initial attraction to images of "eroded beauty" came during her previous post as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Patterson, New Jersey.

"It's an old mill city and in some ways a lot like Cleveland, but smaller and much poorer,” she said. “And I was struggling with the despair and the poverty and the rundownness of it all - the erosion, if you will. And I thought, you know, ‘I’ve got to do something,’ and I decided to pick up a camera and to go walk around the neighborhood to look for God again. And photography became, for me, a spiritual discipline, a form of prayer and meditation, a metaphor for life,” Lind said. 

"Escape" - 2012 [Tracey Lind]

It might sound strange to be looking for the divine among the ruins, but Lind said she believes God is in everything.

“And I think, for reasons that I don't fully understand, that I've learned and I'm inclined to look at that which has been ignored or abandoned and still find the beauty in the roughness of it, even in the decay,” she said. “Because in the erosion there is the opportunity to rebuild anew and more creative ways.”

"Isolation" - 2011 [Tracey Lind]

On Election Day in 2016, Tracey Lind was diagnosed with frontotemporal degeneration, otherwise known as FTD. It's a shrinking of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain that control language, mobility and behavior. As she experienced the early symptoms, Lind decided to step away from her work at the church. But on some level, she said the diagnosis has actually given her a new way to communicate and experience the world.

I think I've slowed down a lot,” she said. “And so that gives me the time and the space to look more. While I might sound really articulate to you right now, language is challenging, and I often find myself not having the energy to speak. And so, with a camera, it's another way of speaking. And I became really fascinated with erosion.”

"A Room with a View" - 1997 [Tracey Lind]

I began to look at my past work in photography and some of my more recent work and began to see this curious pattern that I was making, images of erosion - rust and paint and cement," she said. "And now, my brain was eroding. So what was that all about?”

One of the featured pictures in the exhibition seems to bear traces of an American flag that's worn away. Lind found it within the cavernous, abandoned Warner & Swasey headquarters on Cleveland’s near East Side. Lind calls the picture, “American Beauty.”

“For me, it's a prayer for our nation,” she said. “That's what America feels like to me right now - battered and broken and falling apart. But yet, it is sitting on pretty solid bricks still.”

Lind said her own sense of stability these days is actually better than when she was first diagnosed, four years ago. She attributes that to her decision to manage FTD as a chronic condition rather than a death sentence. That means more exercise, more sleep, stress management and always striving to learn new things.

Self-portrait [Tracey Lind]

“I don't know what the time frame is,” she said. “I don't know whether I'm on a plateau and this Election Day I'll take another dive, or whether I'll be on this plateau for a long time.”

She emphasized that she also doesn’t want to deny the disease, she won’t let it defeat her spirit.

“And in the process, trying to say to others, we don't have to give up so quickly,” she said.

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.