Photographs show related tragedies

At first glance, the three black and white images displayed outside Room 212 in the University of La Verne Arts and Communications Building may be puzzling.

Clearly, each of the pictures shows the sequence of the destruction that took place on Sept. 11, 2001. However, the images display the World Trade Center on unfamiliar territory.

Take a closer look. This desolate, wrecked land in the foreground is Hiroshima, Japan, after being ruined by the atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945.

“In Memoriam: Innocent Victims of 8/6/45 and 9/11/01,” created by Professor of English William Cook, is an innovative photomontage that raises the question: Why attack innocent civilians?

Roughly 25 students and faculty members gathered on Sept. 22 to view the powerful images, and 15 people stayed to further discuss the meaning behind Cook’s photomontage.

“The three pieces started to emerge in my head on Sept. 12, 2001,” Cook said.

Like many Americans on Sept. 11, Cook was shocked when he first saw coverage of the devastating terrorist attacks on television and noticed how his then 17-year-old daughter was particularly distraught by the chaos that unfolded before them.

“I thought it was an action movie, a Schwarzenegger-type thing,” Cook said of his initial reaction to the event.

However, in the days that followed, Cook found similarities between Sept. 11 and other historic events, where innocent civilians were killed on their home soil.

“We galvanized around that fact that Americans with no involvement to the attackers died alone,” Cook said. “It also occurred to us that we had never witnessed on our own soil an attack versus innocent people since the Civil War.”

One of the poignant events that came to Cook’s mind was on Aug. 6, 1945, when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, which immediately killed at least 60,000 people and ruined the city of 340,000. Three days later, the U.S. dispersed a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing about 40,000 civilians.

Although this event marked the end of World War II, hundreds of thousands of innocent people died, and, to this day, many question if the atomic bomb was necessary.

“Neither one [Sept. 11 and Hiroshima] has any justification,” Cook said.

These two events were the basis for his photomontage.

“I wanted to bring forth an image to show that there is horror in humans,” Cook said. “The only way to do that was to have an image that struck us with an image that struck others.”

Cook noted that he faced a number of obstacles as he was creating the photomontage, such as the initial pictures he wanted to use.

“It was difficult to find a ‘clean image’ of the Twin Towers before 9/11,” Cook said.

He also was unsure to use either an image of just the Twin Towers or the entire complex.

Cook then found black and white photographs by Donna Young, a freelance photographer.

“I decided to use a picture of the entire complex to give more drama to the final sequence,” Cook said. “[The original picture] still had other buildings to show the dimensions.”

He then found a black and white photograph of Hiroshima that depicted the destroyed, leveled land after the bombing.

Cook said there were “not many photographs available” to show the extensive devastation in Hiroshima and, therefore, he had to “cut and paste” the same picture to create a large landscape.

He then combined the two scenes in each of the three pictures.

“Sara Lesniak helped place the towers in the landscape,” Cook said. “We had to move it around to get the dimensions just right.”

The first of the three images displays the Twin Towers in its original state, among the destroyed Hiroshima landscape.

The second image depicts the initial explosion when the airplanes crashed into the buildings. The bright, neon orange burst of fire is the only color on any of the three pictures.

In the last image, a cloud of smoke hovers over the demolished compound.

“It is almost like a flip-book,” sophomore Megan Lomeli said. “It goes from normal to explosion to the damage has been done.”

“There is destruction in two forms all in each one of the pictures,” sophomore Taryn Aguilar said.

Cook noted that war has been a significant subject for many artists throughout history.

He cited and displayed artwork from the American neoclassical painter Benjamin West, who glorified the soldiers and attempted to create a sense of patriotism.

Cook compared West’s work with that of Francisco Goya and Pablo Picasso, whose works both showed a different understanding of war: a concern for the innocent victims.

“It is very interesting and kind of scary,” said Anica Alvis, a Theatre Seminar student. “The only word that comes to mind is ‘wow.’”

“In Memoriam” will be displayed until the end of September outside of Room 212 in the Arts and Communications Building.

Tracy Spicer can be reached at

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Journalism operations manager at the University of La Verne. Production manager and business manager of the Campus Times.

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Campus and community arts events for the week of Oct. 25, 2019.