Downtown exhibit displays 9/11 photos from WKU students


Paul Maxwell

Gordon Kingsley and Amy Parker of Chicago, IL, observe photos taken by WKU students and faculty who traveled to New York City after the events of Sep. 11, 2001.

Michael Dylan Payne, News reporter

Today the WKU photojournalism program’s 9.11 Photo Exhibit opened in downtown Bowling Green to commemorate the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when over 2,800 people tragically lost their lives. 

The exhibit aims to commemorate the work of WKU photojournalism students who traveled to New York City to document the devastation 20 years ago, according to James Kenney, photojournalism professor.

There are some events that can never be forgotten, and the events of Sept. 11 is one of those events, Kenney said.

“About 20 in all, now in their forties or older, who made the decision to close that 900 mile divide, traveling from Bowling Green to New York with the singular goal of documenting and sharing stories, not of twisted metal, but of profoundly wounded yet resilient souls,” Kenney said.  “Journalists are often present during individuals’ lowest moments in life and 9/11 would certainly qualify as the lowest of them all.”

Documenting tragedy isn’t something we do with joy, it’s something we do with great empathy and to see something that changed the world, Kenney said.

“Going to New York and photographing the attacks is not something I’m proud of, it’s just something I did,” Kenney said. “I didn’t have to think about going, I had the opportunity to see something that I knew would forever change our country and I went.”

Gary Ransdell, former WKU President, recalled what was going through his mind on Sept. 11, 2001 as he waited for a flight to Chicago in the Nashville International Airport watching the events unfold on television.

“All flights were canceled, so I headed back to Bowling Green and when I got back I got word some of our students were on their way to New York,” Ransdell said.  “My first thought was ‘oh my God,’ I was concerned about their safety because no one knew what the day was going to bring.”

As he thought about it more, he was filled with pride realizing they were going to the scene of a tragedy, but that they were going to tell that story, Ransdell said.

Former WKU President, Gary Ransdell shares his experience of what happened on Sep. 11, 2001 at the 9.11 Exhibit at 400 E. Main Street on Sep. 10, 2021. (Michael Dylan Payne)

“Twenty years later we’re enjoying their skill, their talent, their dedication, their passion, their empathy,”  Ransdell said.  “My sense of pride was overwhelming at what our students and our faculty were doing to document such a world event.”

Even after such a long time, although Ransdell has seen the photos and video so many times before, he said he still has a deep emotional connection to the images from that day and that they are just as important today as they were 20 years ago.

The students played an important role in documenting the events of Sept. 11, but the faculty played an extremely significant role as well, Ransdell said. 

“WKU is so fortunate to have the faculty we have in journalism and broadcasting… that’s what makes us the best school of journalism in America,” Ransdell said. 

John Ridley, Derek Hull, and Drew Martin, all three WKU graduates and business partners at Ridley & Hall Wealth Management Group at Stifel, are the men behind this year’s exhibit.

“About a month ago I was in New York and I’d seen the memorial, and when I got back I shared with my colleagues that I knew there was an exhibit that existed of WKU students,” Ridley said.  “We all agreed this would be something that we would like to back.”

Ridley owns the building the gallery is housed at and says he felt like it was a natural location to hold the event to remember the events of Sept. 11.

Derek Hull, a partner with Ridley, said this is a touching tribute to an event that shaped all of our lives and an event we should not soon forget.

“We recently moved our practice to Stifel,” Hull said.  “Stifel acquired a firm mentioned in the video, and 67 employees were lost that day.”

Everyone had some connection to that day, Hull said.

The exhibit will be on display at 400 E. Main Street every weekday in September from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Michael Dylan Payne can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @dylan_payne.