It was a camera; students were learning to make long-exposure photographs, so they were asked to attach their pinhole cameras to something in order to capture a scene over time.
What some didn’t take into account was that, in the terrorism-scarred world we now live in, a homemade camera attached to a bridge can look an awful lot like a homemade bomb attached to a bridge.
Like all art, it’s in the eye of the beholder.
A photography Web site, PetaPixel, summed it up well:
“It Looks Like Someone’s Solargraphy Camera Just Got Blown Up by an Atlanta Bomb Squad.”
The post on PetaPixel noted, “If you’re looking to do a solargraphy project by leaving a pinhole camera in a place for months, a bridge above a busy freeway is not a smart location choice.”
Nor is a pedestrian bridge near a train depot, as it turns out.
The police department in Hapeville, Ga., responding to a report of a suspicious package Tuesday afternoon, stopped vehicle traffic and a train and asked some residents to voluntarily evacuate while they investigated.
It was another camera from the same class project.
“Unfortunately, the investigation caused a minor traffic delay but the safety of our citizens must always come first,” the Hapeville Police Department announced in a statement.
The traffic impact in Atlanta was not minor: It shut down a highway for almost three hours, with exactly the painful, torturous result you’d expect in a city already plagued with lousy traffic.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which like other Atlanta media was covering the incident all day, noted the “fiasco was all the result of a take-home project that apparently one student didn’t take home.”
Students were not told to put the cameras in a public spot, a spokeswoman for Georgia State said, so the professor will not be reprimanded. The university has apologized for its unintended impact.
Kim Jones, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta Police Department, said no one has been charged yet, but the investigation is ongoing.
The art class, an introduction to studio work, is one all students at the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design at Georgia State take, said Michael White, the school’s director. Throughout the semester, a series of professors introduce students to how art is made, with projects including one using organic materials to create an ephemeral piece and one using a found object to create art, for example.
This was the class’s first project this year, one that has been done many times before at Georgia State and other schools, he said.
“In this particular project there’s an element of serendipity,” White said, “a chance happening that one might get.” The camera is placed somewhere for a long period of time, so “you don’t always know what you’re going to get at the end of the day.”
They did not expect to get this.
“We had no intention of creating this type of turmoil and distraction,” White said. “That was not the intent of the project or the student. We are residents and members of this community as well.”
The response, he said, “has everything to do with the times we live in. … As artists, we do make art that is relevant to our times. There’s a heightened sensitivity, a culture of fear that we all contend with. ”
When asked if he was able to laugh about it yet, he said, “I can laugh about thinking about laughing about it,” he said. “No, this is still too present for us.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the intro to studio class featured guest lecturers: Officers from the Atlanta Police Department, asking where the other 16 cameras are.
Police said Wednesday afternoon that they believe they have found, and removed, all the cameras placed in public spots.