First Impressions

Alison Balmat
September 01, 2002

From the Brooklyn Bridge subway stop—still five blocks away—the stench of disintegrated metal and ash was overwhelming. Behind sunglasses (the dust in the air made her eyes tear), Brooke Mashel drifted closer to the smoldering rubble. Thick layers of debris and dirt covered store awnings. Shards of glass lay in the streets. Letters and prayers were taped to walls, and messages were written in the dust on the windows. Candles burned everywhere.

From two blocks away, Mashel, a Penn State photography student, gaped at the scene. "A massive structure used to tower over the city," she recalls; she had returned to New York three weeks after September 11, 2001.

"I had to pinch myself to remember that my impression was real—that those towers didn't exist anymore.

"I looked up and saw blue sky, a patch of sky that is out of place and one I never thought I'd see."

Mingling with the din of the construction vehicles tearing down remaining chunks of the tower were sobs and hushed whispers in many different tongues. Soldiers blocked the crowds from moving too close. "When I saw all the people, I thought, 'Oh, these people are all coming to gawk.' Then I realized they were just like me, coming to pay their respects for the lives lost. I didn't have a special VIP pass. I was just an ordinary bystander, one who was affected just like everybody else."

A native of Rockland County, 40 miles north of Manhattan, Mashel grew up going into the city, always toting along her camera. When she returned home from the University after the World Trade Center attack, her camera came with her.

"Photography is a diary for me," Mashel explains. "It's a personal release. I'll show these pictures to my children and say, 'This is what I saw in New York City after September 11.'"

When people get sad, they deal with it in different ways, Mashel reflects. "Some write, some listen to music."I take pictures."

Brooke Mashel will receive a B.A. in photography and advertising in December 2002 from the Colleges of Arts and Architecture and Communications. Her photography adviser is Dori Lemeh, 210 Patterson Bldg., University Park, PA 16802; 814-865-1158; Her advertising adviser is Kevin Leddy, 204 Carnegie Bldg., University Park, PA 16802; 814-865-1503;

Last Updated September 01, 2002